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Thursday, 12 May 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) .- The amendments represent a general revision df the experience of the Law Department in connexion with prosecutions dealing with compulsory service. We have been accumulating experiences over a number of years, and the Crown Law officers and the military officers with legal training have been in conference with a view to redrafting the whole clause dealing with this vexed and somewhat involved question of enforcing the compulsory training provisions of the Act. The present sections 135, 135a, and 135b, dealing with prosecutions in connexion with compulsory service, have been recast. The provisions of the present sections have proved far from satisfactory. There have been a number of cases in the past of illegal detention which have been mainly due to the absence in the Act of definite provision as to awards of detention being cumulative or concurrent, and as to the date of commencement of awards of detention, as well as to the absence of any provision requiring the Court to issue a commitment warrant in respect of awards made by it. The terms custody, confinement, and detention are at present used in a manner likely to cause misunderstanding among militia and area officers. The proposed draft amendments also cover a number of minor points in which difficulty was previously experienced. The old maxima of punishment have not been altered except that in the case of offences of absence from continuous training, and failing to perform the whole annual training, the penalty, instead of " not exceeding twenty days "or " for a time corresponding in duration to the time which in the opinion of the Court would be taken up in rendering the personal service required " is now the equivalent «f the training which has been missed, and such additional terms, if any, not exceeding twenty days, as the Court thinks fit. It is to be remembered that the annual training for some units is twenty-five days. It is thought that the new wording will tend, if anything, towards magistrates awarding less punishment than they have done hitherto. Further, the provisions of sub-section 2 of the proposed section 135b entail a deduction from the penalty for failing to perform the annual training of the number of days equivalent to any number of days he may have served in detention during the year as a result of missing compulsory parades. Absence from continuous training is made a separate offence from that of absence from the compulsory parade. The draft includes an alteration that an award of custody where a person is ordered to report from time to time to a prescribed authority shall be confined to offences by senior cadets only. That is a general explanation of this long clause. I can assure the Committee that the separate proposed sections have been carefully considered, keeping in mind the general principles laid down in the existing Act. The proposed new sections contain no departure from those principles. The purpose has been to draft the existing provisions in better form to enable magistrates to more clearly understand the intention' of the Act.

Senator FOSTER - Has the Minister any idea of the percentage of prosecutions to the total number of trainees?

Senator PEARCE - I could get the information for the honorable senator, but I am not able to answer him offhand. I am gratified to be able to say that since the inauguration of the encouragement of sport amongst the Senior Cadets, and the formation of Citizen Committees, the number of prosecutions for nonattendance at parades has fallen off immensely and the attendance at parades has increased. Many of the areas now show an average attendance of 97 per cent. The prosecutions for non-attendance at parades has fallen off to such an extent that in the present year we are reducingthe Provost Staff employed in hunting upabsentees from parades.

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