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Thursday, 12 May 1921

Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) . - It is a common principle of the law of libel and slander, that in our daily lives we must not speak falsehoods of any one, because if the person spoken of thereby suffers damage he has an action against us.

Senator Foster - I was not suggesting that you spoke falsehoods. Your speaking the truth might lead the officer mentioned to think he had suffered wrong.

Senator ELLIOTT - No officer has any business to speak in that way of another .officer, unless he does it in the course of his duty. If his duty required him to make an unfavorable report on an officer, that officer should, in the terms of our regulations, be informed. If the report is in writing it is laid down most specifically in the regulations that it must be shown to the officer concerned in order to allow him to initial it, and give him a chance to have the matter put right at once.

Senator Pearce - Would you do that in the case of a soldier, too?

Senator ELLIOTT - A man suing has to show damage. That, is the ordinary law of libel. If it can be shown that as the result of a bad report by an officer a private has been damned for the rest of his career, surely he is entitled to some redress.

Senator Foster - If, on the only two or three occasions on which you had known a junior officer intimately you were all " shick " together, or the other officers were " shick " and you happened to see them and in the course of your duty you made a report on that man which was to his detriment, do you say you ought to be responsible for damages?

Senator ELLIOTT - If my report in any way reflected on that officer I would be bound by the regulations to show it to him before sending it in, and let him initial it.

Senator Cox - Have you ever told an officer that he was " no so-and-so good to you" and that you "didn't want him"?

Senator ELLIOTT - Under this clause there is nothing to prevent me telling an officer privately, in my tent, what I think of him.

Senator Cox - Have you ever done that in front of your own staff ?

Senator ELLIOTT - No. I do not think any officer has the right, in fact, he is forbidden, to make derogatory remarks about any officer, or even a noncommissioned officer, in front of his men.

Senator Cox - I said in front of your staff, your brigade-major, for instance.

Senator ELLIOTT - Even then, before that officer would have an action for damages against you he would have to show that he had suffered damage as the result of those words, and it would be very difficult to do that in the case the honorable senator suggests. An officer cannot have an action for damages unless he can connect the derogatory words, or writing, with some loss. These provisions' in no wise attempt to extend that provision of the law of libel. If Senator Foster will point to any one provision which even bends in that direction I shall be glad to amend it. My proposal seems to have struck a species of panic into the heart of the Minister, but I ask him, and other honorable senators, to consider calmly each of my proposals separately, and see whether persons guilty of the acts which are aimed at deserve to be protected at all. Every one of these provisions is aimed at a distinctly wrong act. Every act which these provisions forbid, or prohibit, is not the act of an officer and a gentleman, and any officer who commits an act which is not the act of an officer and a gentleman should be punished as he deserves. Every single act referred to in my proposal deserves condemnation.

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