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Thursday, 28 April 1921

Senator EARLE - If it were the law, it would have to" be obeyed.

Senator ELLIOTT - To relieve an officer from duty is not any infringement oi the law, because there is power to suspend an officer, and that is frequently done.

Senator PEARCE - Is not suspension anact of supersession?

Senator ELLIOTT - No. It was frequently done. During the war, owing to the constant strain of going into the front line we used to relieve officers from their commands every second battle. . If a captain went in with his company during one engagement, his second lieutenant would lead on the next occasion.

Senator Pearce - That is not so.

Senator ELLIOTT - There is nothing whatever to prevent it, and it was frequently done by reasonable officers. To suspend an officer until an inquiry was held would not be regarded as an unfair supersession of an officer who had absolutely no charges against him. In the letter which the Military Board forwarded to me, it was stated, "Suppose there are three or four officers with an absolutely unblemished reputation and promotion comes along for some one. If one is chosen, the others have no cause of complaint." But a junior may be placed in , command. The decision rests with some irresponsible person, and this frequently happens, because some officers have their favorites. A very able man -in England dealt very drastically with this question, and pointed out that the practice was ruinous to the discipline of the Army. These were his words -

That such practices have been common, I admit. But they are common just as all wickedness to which there is strong temptation always was and always will be common. They are common just as theft, cheating, perjury, and adultery have always been common. They are common, not because people do not know what is right, but 'because people like to do wrong. They are common, though prohibited by law.

The regulations are the law; but they are disregarded.

Senator Pearce - To what practice is the honorable senator referring?

Senator ELLIOTT - The supersession, of officers.

Senator Pearce - The writer of what the honorable senator is reading does not say so.

Senator ELLIOTT - This authority further slates -

They are common though condemned by public opinion. They are common because in this age, as in others, the law, when administered by a weak Administration, has. not sufficient force to restrain the power of unprincipled persons. They are common just as every crime will be common when the gain to which it leads is great and the chance of punishment small. But, although common, they arc universally allowed, although altogether unjustifiable.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Whose words are those ?

Senator ELLIOTT - They are the words of a greater authority than I am.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Who is the author of that statement?

Senator ELLIOTT - At present I am the author.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator said that they are the words of an authority greater than himself, and I was wondering who it was.

Senator ELLIOTT - I could give the name if necessary.

Senator Fairbairn - The statement isof little value without it.

Senator ELLIOTT - Numerous instances could be quoted illustrating the result of placing unrestricted power in the hands of some men. In France, one of the biggest "duds" I know of commanded a regiment of Light Horse, and he was stationed in a village behind the lines for the whole period of the war. During practically the whole of the time he was there he was intoxicated, and the villagers, in pity and contempt, named him Le Toujours Zig-Zag, by which they meant that he was always drunk. Notwithstanding this he was placed in command of a regiment of cavalry.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - By whom?

Senator ELLIOTT - By the Officer Commanding the Australian Imperial Force. He returned to Australia and is now in command of the troops in Tasmania. Tasmanian senators should watch this very carefully; because this officer was never with the Light Horse in Palestine, and his experience, such as it was, was confined to service in a village in France. Such officers as the honorable member for Darwin, Colonel George Bell, have to take their instructions from a man who, so far as I know, never commanded his regiment in action. If we do not include some provision such as I have outlined, promotion will continue to be made by selection, as is the custom in the Army.

It is not my desire to embarrass the Government, but an amendment such as I have moved must be embodied in the Bill if officers are to receive fair treatment. In the event of an officer with a good record being superseded he would naturally want to state his case. In the instance I have quoted, he would say, " This officer was intoxicated all the time he was in France, and he should not be placed over me." Supposing General Birdwood had come to me in a fair manner, and said that in a particular battle I did certain things, or that my hair was not curled to suit him, trouble would not arise. At Gallipoli I was superseded by General Forsyth, who was my junior. General White approached me, and said : " We propose placing General Smyth, of the British Army, over you." I replied, " I object. I do not see why a British officer should be brought here, as it implies thatI do not understand my job." He followed that up by saying, " The only alternative is to place General Forsyth over you." To that I replied, " If Jack Forsyth comes along I will help to carry him up to the front line."

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What did that mean ?

Senator ELLIOTT - It meant that I did not mind being superseded by an officer whom I knew possessed qualifications better than mine. I objected to an officer from the Egyptian Army being placed over me, who might have been the biggest " dud " in the whole Army, without a chance of being heard.

Senator Cox - But does not General Smyth hold the Victoria Cross ?

Senator ELLIOTT - Yes; but I did not know that at the time.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But the honorable senator was asking the right to make a selection.

Senator ELLIOTT - Not at all.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But you offered to carry him to the front line, and wanted to kick the other man out.

Senator ELLIOTT - Not at all. If I had been informed that it was the intention of the authorities to appoint a capable Egyptian officer, who had won the Victoria Cross, I would not have raised any objection; but I was not in favour of being superseded without being informed of the qualifications of the officer who was to relieve me.

Let us take the case of General Gellibrand, who joined the British Army in 1893.

Senator Foster - Does the honorable senator think it fair to mention here the names of officers, when they have not the opportunity of replying to any charges that may be made against them?

Senator ELLIOTT - Very well; I shall say that an officer who joined the British Army did not reach a higher rank than that of captain after twenty years' service. He then retired and undertook farming, and, though he was a civilian at the outbreak of war, he was given the rank of major. He came to the Peninsula, and during the whole of the time he was there he remained onthe Staff, and did not command a company in the field. At the same time, there were other officers senior to him fighting in the line day after day. He was promoted colonel, and that made him of the same rank as officers who had commanded their battalions for six months in actual battle fighting. Three weeks later he was promoted brigadier over the heads of other officers, and I ask honorable senators to say whether they consider that a fair thing.

Senator Gardiner - I should say that he had friends.

Senator ELLIOTT - Exactly. Referring again to General McNicoll, who objected as I did to being superseded, I may tell honorable senators that rightly or wrongly he says in a letter to me: -

On my taking up residence in the 2nd Military District - that is New South Wales -

I offered for employment in the Citizen Forces, and the reply was, " There is no avenue of employment for you in the Commonwealth Military Forces." Generals Brand and Rosenthal command the divisions in this State while the Brigades go to Mackay, Paton, Heane, Bennett, and Goddard, all of whom, with the exception of Paton, are very much my junior.

Senator Cox - All the men quoted are excellent men.

Senator ELLIOTT - The officer from whose letter I quote is very much senior to them. The Minister for Defence has himself stamped General McNicoll as a magnificent soldier, yet men junior to him have been selected for these positions. The only inference he can draw is that the protest he made jointly with me in France is now proving a bar to his employment.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That was about the saluting.

Senator ELLIOTT - No. I refer to the protest against being, superseded. If, in view of what I have said, honorable senators still believe that absolute power should be given to any officer in high command to favour his relatives or any one else, and that no protest should bo permitted, I am 'at a loss to know what their ideas of a Defence Force can be. As Senator Duncan has pointed out, we preserve a man's right to promotion in the Public Service, and in the management of the Defence Force, a vitally more important organization, we should strive to secure justice for our fellow men and fellow comrades.

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