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Wednesday, 23 November 1910

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) - - I wish considering this question to remind the Committee of what I think should be the dual foundation of the Military College it is proposed to establish under this Bill. First of all, it ought to be the means of securing the efficient command of our Defence Forces by the most competent and best-trained men it will be possible for us to get. In the second place, it should stand marked for the fact that no conditions of social or financial position shall in any way influence entry into the establishment. Let us see how the statements made by the Vice-Pre- sident of the Executive Council square with these principles. The honorable senator states that it is the desire of the Government, in the amendment they propose, to give some advantage to younger men in competition with men who, by reason of their more advanced age, have acquired greater experience. That strikes at the very object and purpose of the College. The purpose of the College is not to secure men of a certain age, but the best men available. The Vice-President of the Executive Council now states that the Government propose to brush on one side the men who they admit are the best for our purposes in order to give an advantage to men whose sole qualification is their youth. Is it desired that we should say to a man who happens to be over nineteen years of age, 1 You must stand on one side, although you are better equipped, because there is some one here who is younger than you, and desires to enter the College?" Yet that is the logical conclusion of the honorable senator's contention. What do the Government offer in place of the amendment carried in the House of Representatives? They offer a proposal which has not the slightest regard for any Democratic principle. This proposal closes the door to the great bulk of the people, but leaves the key with the Minister to be turned whenever sufficient influence can be brought to bear on the holder of it, and in favour of any person, irrespective of his age. Senator Long shakes his head ; but I ask him whether he has read the amendment proposed by the Government?

Senator Long - Yes ; and I read it quite differently from the honorable senator.

Senator MILLEN - It is an unfortunate fact that the honorable senator always does read a proposal wrongly. The amendment which we are asked to dissent from provides that any person who has served for three years in the Citizen Forces may, at any time before attaining the age of twenty-seven years, secure entry to the Military College by passing the prescribed examination. That should be the touchstone to determine the persons who shall enter the College.

Senator de Largie - Why restrict it to those under twenty-seven years of age?

Senator MILLEN - I am not now dealing with the age, but with the fact that, under the amendment as carried in another place, no one can pass into the College who has not shown that he possesses the necessary qualification.

Senator de Largie - Under the Government's amendment, a man might get in, even if he were thirty years of age.

Senator MILLEN - I have said that I am not now dealing with the question of the age, but with the fact that the amendment carried in another place makes it clear that a man may enter the College by virtue of the examination alone.

Senator Lynch - Up to twenty-seven years of age.

Senator MILLEN - Yes; but under the Government proposal he may be qualified by passing the examination, and he may not be able to get into the College then, unless . his particular ability is discovered in some mysterious way by the Government of the day. Are we to make admission to the Military College dependent on Ministerial favour? That is the whole point. I am surprised that a Ministry that professes Democratic leanings should have ventured to submit an amendment of this character to leave in the hands of Ministers the power to discriminate between men desiring to enter the Military College. Surely the touchstone should be the ability to pass the prescribed examination?

Senator de Largie - That is practically what is proposed. A man must pass the prescribed examination before he can enter the College.

Senator MILLEN - Does the honorable senator not' see that, under the amendment proposed by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, that is not sufficient?

Senator Henderson - Why should it be? We want something more than the mere ability to pass an examination?

Senator MILLEN - Does the honorable senator suggest that it should be by Ministerial favour?

Senator Henderson - It must be by some one's favour, and why not by favour of the Minister?

Senator MILLEN - In the amendment as carried in another place there is no suggestion of Ministerial favour, nor was there in the Bill as originally introduced.

Senator Henderson - There is none in the amendment proposed by the Government.

Senator MILLEN - I take it that honorable senators who are interjecting believe that a true interpretation of the Democratic principle is that a man must stand on one side, no matter what his qualifications, unless he secures the nomination of the Minister of Defence of the day. That is exactly what the Government's amendment says.

Senator de Largie - It says no such thing.

Senator MILLEN - Let the honorable "senator read it. It says -

Provided further that the regulations shall provide for the admission to the Military College of any member of the forces over the age of nineteen years who passes the prescribed examination -

Senator de Largie - Hear, hear.

Senator MILLEN - But if he passes the examination, that does not secure his entry to the College, because the amendment further says - and is recommended by the Governor-General in Council.

That, in my judgment, is laying the axe at . the very root of what ought to be the basic principle on which the College is founded - that is to say, admission by ability alone. I should like to know whether my honorable friends opposite would be satisfied if persons who had passed the Public Service examination, and. had shown themselves to be qualified, were not entitled to be appointed unless the Ministry of the day regarded them as fit and proper persons for such appointments?

Senator Henderson - Scores pass now who never get into the Public Service, and the same thing would take place here.

Senator MILLEN - If that be so, let us strike out the words " and is recommended by the Governor-General in Council," and let the matter depend on the passing of the examination, and I shall be content. I say that this is putting back the hands on the clock of time to say that when a man has come forward and proved his qualification by passing an examination the Minister of the day, which means the officers of the Department, may prevent his entry to' the College if they do not regard him as a desirable person to admit. There would be no question as to his knowledge or capacity. That would be proved by his passing the examination. What possible objection will the officers whose advice will be followed by the Minister be able to take to a man who has passed his examination ?

Senator Long - Suppose he is forty years of age. His age might then reasonably be held to disqualify him.

Senator MILLEN - Just now Ministers were pointing out that the amendment they propose, because it contains no limitation as to age, is more liberal than that carried in another place.

Senator Long - I think it is, too.

Senator MILLEN - That is the answer *to my honorable friend.

Senator Long - Suppose that he is physically unfit?

Senator MILLEN - Then he cannot pass the prescribed examination, because that examination will embrace physical fitness. Nobody can obtain admission to our Army or Navy without passing a medical examination. The whole question which we have to consider is whether admission to our Military College ought to be open on proof of ability, or whether admission to it should be by virtue of social position, money, or favour.

Senator Long - That is what the honorable senator wants.

Senator MILLEN - Either I am unable to express my thoughts, or the honorable senator is unable to comprehend them. We know that originally the Government proposed that no man should be eligible to enter the Military College unless he were of a certain age-

Senator Long - In my opinion, a reasonable opportunity for admission will be afforded to all classes.

Senator MILLEN - It is as clear as is the noonday sun that the majority of entrants will be young men, whose parents can afford to keep them without work during the early years of their 'manhood. The amendment which was inserted in another place is founded on the belief that allcitizens should be eligible for admission to the College, provided they pass the necessary examination. But to-day we are asked to give out sanction to a system which is far more pernicious than is that which was originally proposed. I refer to the system of Ministerial favour. I do not think that any honorable senator believes in, or likes, that system. Surely it ought to be possible to devise an amendment which will secure what we desire in regard to the Military College, but which will exclude the pernicious idea of Ministerial veto or favour. We have often heard it said that the object of the Government was to throw the door to the higher positions in our Army open to the brains of Australia. Are we doing that here?

Senator Long - Decidedly.

Senator MILLEN - If that be so, I do not know the meaning of the English language. Does the honorable senator tell me that we are throwing open the door to ability if we allow a boy who has passed the prescribed examination to be blocked by the Minister, acting on the advice of the Department ?

Senator Mcdougall - The Minister would have to show reasons why the door was locked in such a case.

Senator MILLEN - I venture to say that he would not. If I were charged with' administering the Act I would decline to give reasons.

Senator Guthrie - Parliament might force the honorable senator to do so.

Senator MILLEN - It could not. There is a limit even to the powers of Parliament.

Senator Long - Then the honorable senator would have to pay the penalty.

Senator MILLEN - In the great number of cases the Minister would probably, say that, in the interests of the service, a particular candidate had been turned down. When an examination has been made the test of admission to the Military College, ought any body of men to be able to say to a candidate, " In spite of the results of the examination we brush you on one side?"

Senator Barker - Suppose that a .successful candidate was not of good character ?

Senator MILLEN - That is provided for beforehand. No person can gain admission to any branch of our Public Service to:day in the absence of evidence of good character.

Senator McDougall - What about the law examinations? Any person cannot sit for that.

Senator MILLEN - If a man has the knowledge and capacity, he cannot be prevented from passing his legal examination. It has been argued that it is intended to open the door of the Military College to men who are over the age of nineteen years. If that be so, what is wrong with the amendment which has been inserted in the Bill by another place?

Senator Lynch - It stops short at twenty-seven years.

Senator MILLEN - The objection of the Government to it was that, by adopting that limit, men might obtain admission to the College whom it was not possible to train in the way that it is desirable that they should be trained. If the amendment made by the House of Representatives stands, a candidate over die age of nineteen years who passes the prescribed examination, will enter the Military College without having, to ask anybody's permission. But, under the amendment of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, he will have to obtain the permission of the Minister of Defence. He will have to ask that gentleman to open the door of the College and let him in. If the Government intend to open the door to such candidates, the original proposal is good enough ; but, if they do not, die amendment of the VicePresident of the Executive Council is nothing more nor less than a fraud. . If honorable senators are not prepared to delete the whole clause, I ask them to agree to strike out the words, " and is recommended by' the Governor-General in Council." I am perfectly certain that if honorable senators would discuss this matter, apart from their association with any political party, they would agree with me. If the bald proposition were put before them, " Are you in favour of opening wide the door of the Military College, or any other branch of our Public Service, to merit, or to merit plus Ministerial approval ?" I know what their answer would be. Believing that they are not in favour of allowing any Minister to bar the admission to the College of a man who possesses the necessary qualifications, I ask them to support my effort to get the words which I have indicated deleted. I move -

That the motion be amended by leaving out the words " and is recommended by the GovernorGeneral in Council."

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