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Thursday, 12 May 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) . - I move -

That at the end of the clause the following new section be inserted : - 123h.- (1) If an officer of the Military Forces thinks that he has been wronged and, on due application, does not receive the redress to which ho considers he is entitled, he may complain through the proper channel to the Military Board, or, if the Military Board is not at the time constituted, to the GeneralOfficer commanding the Australian Military Forces in which he is serving.

(2)   The Military Board or the General Officer, as the- case may he, shall,without delay, investigate the complaint.

(3)   If the officer complaining so requires, the Military Board or General Officer, as the case may be, shall forward the complaint to the Minister for submission to the GovemorGeneral together with a report on the subjectmatter of the complaint.

(4)   Any directions given by the GovernorGeneral in relation to the complaint shall be carried into effect without delay.

(5)   (a) If a soldier thinks that he has been wronged in any matter by any officer other than his captain, or by any soldier, he may complain to his captain ; and

(b)   if he thinks that he has been wronged by his captain, either in respect of his complaint not being redressed or in respect of any other matter, he may complain to his commanding officer; and

(c)   if he thinks that he has been wronged by his commanding officer, either in respect of his complaint not being redressed or in respect of any other matter, he may complain to the general or other superior officer commanding the command, district or station where for the time being the soldier is serving; and

(d)   if he thinks that he has been wronged by the general or other superior officer specified in the last preceding paragraph either in respect of his complaint not being redressed or in respect of any other matter, he may, except in time of war, complain to the Military Board.

(6)   Any complaint made in pursuance of the last preceding sub-section shall be made through the proper channel.

(7)   Where, in pursuance of sub-section (5) of this section, a complaint is made to the Military Board or to an officer, the Military Board or the officer,as the case may be, shall cause the complaint to be investigated, and, if satisfied with the justice of the complaint, shall take such steps as are necessary for giving, to the soldier complaining, full redress in respect of the subject-matter of the complaint.

(8)   In this section ' captain ' means an officer of whatever rank commanding a squadron, battery, company or equivalent command.

I have brought forward this proposal in response to the suggestion of certain honorable senators that the provisions which are in the Army Act and which apply in time of war and which in time of peace are contained in our own regulations, should be embodied in the Statute itself. A promise was made that that course would be followed, and these proposals give effect to that promise. The proposed new section goes farther and meets the case put by Senator Drake-Brockman, who pointed out that as the officer appointed to a divisional command is appointed on the recommendation of the. Military Board, an officer's appeal under the existing regulations can go only to that Board, and that therefore it is really an appeal from Caesar to Caesar. The honorable senator suggested that an officer should have a right of appeal to the Governor-General, and that is provided for in the proposed new section. It will also give an officer similar power to obtain redress to that which is provided in the Army Act, bub for the Army Council it substitutes the Military Board or the General Officer Commanding of the Australian Forces; for the Secretary of State it substitutes the Minister : and for His Majesty it substitutes the. Governor-General. It is simi lar to the Australian Military Regulations, but it goes farther by providing for an appeal by an officer to the GovernorGeneral, both in time of peace and in time of war, whereas the present regulations provide that an appeal in time of peace may go only as far as the Military Board. "Under the proposed new section a soldier will have a right of appeal to a different authority from that which has caused the thing to be done of which he complains. In other words, if a wrong has been done by his captain he may appeal to the captain's next superior officer, and so on, right up to the General Officer Commanding. In the British Army the appeal by a soldier does not go to the King. This, however, is not a class distinction as between the officer and the soldier. The distinction is made because in the case of an officer he would be appealing for redress from the act of his superior officer to that superior officer. A further reference to the King is therefore given in the case of an officer in order that the civil authority may intervene between the officer of whom complaint is made and the officer who makes the complaint. Under the Army Act the right of appeal is up to the General Officer Commanding: in the case of the soldier. The proposals I have submitted provide for a right of appeal in peace time from the General Officer Commanding to the Military Board. In the case of an officer, however, the appeal is to the GovernorGeneral, who, in some cases, is the only authority through whom redress can be obtained. Senator Elliott has given notice of a number of amendments upon this proposed new section. I have not had time to study their effect, but I gather that the last portion of them really relates to a different subject. I would therefore suggest to him that it would be more convenient for the Committee to discuss these two matters separately. The first question has reference to the redress of wrongs. The other question relates to a civil remedy for injustices done. That, of course, will be supplementary to any question involving the redress of wrongs, and I suggest that it need not be debated upon these proposals. The provisions dealing with the redress of wrongs which are contained in the proposed new section, are more liberal than any which have hitherto existed, and the question which we have to determine is whether or not they are adequate. After that matter has been disposed of, we can proceed to decide separately the question of whether in respect of wrongs done, there shall be civil redress in addition.

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