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Wednesday, 23 November 1910

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - In moving the second reading of this Bill the Minister of Defence urged that it was a non-party measure. He described it as one of the most democratic Billswhich had ever been presented to Parliament, in that it gave an opportunity to the sons of the poorest men of the community to rise to the highest positions in our Defence Forces. Consequently, I was very pleased to support it. But the Minister's remarks on the measure are no longer true. I do not think any honorable senator will say that at nineteen years of age the son of a working man will be in as good a position as is the son of wealthy parents. Thus the former may be twenty -two or twenty-three years of age before he is in a position to qualify for admission to the Military College. But after he .had passed the prescribed examination he would, under the amendment proposed by the VicePresident of the ' Executive Council, require to obtain the consent of the Minister. We know perfectly well that military officers consider themselves a little higher in the social scale than are ordinary people. They are the advisers of the Minister, and when: we see Ministers accepting the hospitality of wealthy people it is almost needless to inquire, " Who is likely to get their ear?" Certainly it is not the man who has to work for his living. He will have to approach the Minister in a very round-about way. There is an old saying that " kissing goes by favour."

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator does not look as if he had kissed very much.

Senator SAYERS - I should be very sorry to kiss the Vice-President of the Executive Council, even to get a favour from him. To suggest that the son of the working man will be able to exercise as much influence with the military authorities or with the Minister as will the son of the wealthy man is ridiculous. I am not imputing motives to the gentlemen who occupy Ministerial office at the present time. But the system itself is a bad one. We know very well that for many years in the Old Country the system of .purchasing commissions was in vogue. We know what took place under that system, and what takes place to-day. Honorable senators thought that the British Army would be thrown open to the sons of the poor as well as the sons of the wealthy, but it is not. If the proposal before the Committee be carried, the Military College will only be open to those who can bring most influence to bear on the Governor-General or the Minister, and unless the latter has practical military knowledge, he will have to depend upon his officers. All over the world, there is a military caste. In Great Britain, a poor man, although he may be able to get a commission, has to put up with very rough times.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. -The ragging is pretty stiff sometimes.

Senator SAYERS - Yes. The military caste may not be so bad in Australia, but it will grow. We should establish our. defence system on the best lines. A man should be able to get in by merit, and merit alone, and should not be barred simply because he may be poor and unable to get sufficient education before attaining the age of nineteen years. I trust that honorable senators will not treat this question from a party stand-point. I welcomed the Bill when it was introduced. I am satisfied that the amendment proposed by the Vice-President of the Executive Council would be a great- detriment to its successful operation, and therefore I hope that it will not be accepted.

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