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Thursday, 12 May 1921

Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) .- - The Minister has fairly pointed out to the Committee precisely where we stand in regard to the one point at issue, namely, whether we should give the soldier the right of appeal to the highest Court in the land : the Governor-General in Council. I ask honorable senators to give the matter very careful consideration. A great many men come to me, just as the Minister said they came to "him in London, and on their story, prima facie, they have suffered grievous wrong. It would appear that their superior officers, one after another, acted like rubber stamps. Apparently, they accepted entirely the word of the officers below them. If a captain or a major inflicts a wrong upon a man, and he appeals to his colonel, the captain or the major may come along and say, " Private So-and-so is a rotter. You cannot believe him." The colonel then confirms what the captain or major may have done, and his decision, perhaps unconsciously, implicates him in seeing that the decision is upheld before the brigadier. Unfortunately, the private has no chance of getting in first, and so superior officers get their minds prejudiced against the man. This is the danger I see in refusing this ultimate right of appeal to Parliament. It would be a case of in terrorem. Many colonels and brigadiers are not disposed to put themselves about to redress wrongs; but if they thought there was a possibility of a soldier getting his grievance ventilated in the Parliament, they would feel it necessary to do their duty. Honorable senators will find that my amendments provide drastic penalties for an officer who wilfully neglects his duty in this respect. He may be sued for damages.

Senator Pearce - How could an appeal be brought up in Parliament?

Senator ELLIOTT - I presume that in respect of any appeal to the GovernorGeneral the evidence and all the papers could be brought to the Parliament and discussed. I propose that if a man disputes the correctness of documents or complains that documents affecting his case have been extracted from the file - and such things are not unknown - his complaint may be referred to a Judge, so that the preliminary facts may be sifted with the assistance of counsel, and the complete case could then be brought before Parliament. I hope that honorable senators will not be influenced by the idea that there would be so many of these appeals that they would block the ordinary course of administration of the Army. They will remember that I propose to provide that in time of war the Minister shall have power to suspend the hearing of a complaint until the end of the war.

Senator Duncan - The honorable senator means that the soldier may go on suffering an injustice for years.

Senator ELLIOTT - That is possible. But his complaint will be on record and the officer of whom he has complained will know that if both survive., his action will ultimately be subject to review. I admit that what I propose is the introduction of provisions which will be largely in terror em. It is possible that some officers will take the chance that they, or those who have complained of them, will be wiped out, and complaints against them settled in that way. But if the proposals I make are accepted, officers will know' that their conduct may be severely criticised in Parliament on their return to Australia. I am aware of the difficulties in the way of giving effect to what I propose, but I am prepared to go very far to at any rate create the impression that our soldiers, who are not free to join the Army' or leave it alone as are men in Great Britain, but are conscripted willynilly, will ultimately, so far as we can secure it to them, be given a square deal and be protected from grievous wrong. My proposed amendments are in keeping with the democratic idea that we should make no distinction between officers and rank and file. I have crossed swords with the Minister for Defence in this matter to secure for all ranks the right of an ultimate appeal to Parliament, if they feel aggrieved.

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