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Thursday, 18 October 1956

Mr CHAMBERS (Adelaide) .- This is a bill to amend the Defence Act 1903-1953. The Opposition supports this measure. The bill provides, first, that a soldier of the Australian Army may engage for further service on the expiration of his current engagement before that engagement has expired. At present it is not possible for a soldier to re-engage in this way, and 1 believe this to be a very worthy amendment. Many difficulties confront Australian servicemen. If a soldier is serving overseas, and his term of service is due to expire while he is overseas, the Government at present must bring him back to Australia before he can re-engage, and send another soldier overseas to replace him. This would entail considerable expense. I think it is an advantage to a serviceman to be able to re-engage prior to the expiration of his service, and the Opposition supports the proposal.

The bill makes provision also in relation to courts-martial. We know that since the first Defence Act was passed following federation, it has been provided that in general the laws and regulations relating to courtsmartial in the British Army shall apply to the Australian Army. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) has informed us that the United Kingdom Parliament has passed a new Army Act which will come into force on 1st January, 1957. The reason for the provision relating to courts-martial in this bill is that time does not permit the Australian Army to re-write its manual of military law by 1st January, 1957, and therefore it will be necessary to continue to apply the existing regulations until such time as the necessary re-writing has been completed. I would direct the Minister's attention to only one other thing. We have seen recent reports - \ do not know how true they are - that the Australian Government may in the future fall into line with the United States of America in defence matters. If that is Government policy I suppose we shall be told about it. If such a policy were adopted it would probably be necessary to amend the Defence Act again to bring it into conformity with practices in the United States and to abandon the practices of the United Kingdom. I mention that matter only in passing.

The Opposition considers that the amendments to be made to the principal act by this measure are necessary, and it supports the bill.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

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