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Friday, 29 May 1914

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) (Minister of Defence) .- I think the Senate will agree with me when I say that we all welcome the action taken by Senator Pearce. So long as it is within the competency of any branch of the Legislature to disturb an action being taken by a Department there is an element of uncertainty as to what the outcome will be. It is desirable that that uncertainty should be cleared up, and the submission of this motion will have that effect. The proposal is not a mere abstract one, but one which, if carried, will have the effect of stopping the action which has been taken to maintain national regiments. For that reason I welcome it. Senator Pearce is entirely consistent in the attitude which he has taken up to-day. But so am I. Long ago I expressed my views on this matter, and therefore both Senator Pearce and myself occupy to-day exactly the position that we have occupied for some time. The Senate is now invited to determine which policy shall be adopted. I venture to say that if the proposal which I have put forward to continue these national regiments within certain limits is turned down, it will be a long while before an effort can be made to revive it.

Senator Pearce - It would be a breach of faith later to alter the system.

Senator MILLEN - I - If it is allowed to continue now and turned down afterwards, there will be, I think, a legitimate grievance. Therefore, I intend to ask the Senate, in voting, to regard its decision as being as near an approach to finality as can be got in any matter determined by a parliamentary vote.

Senator Guthrie - Do you want to make this a test question for the elections?

Senator MILLEN - I do not think that anything I have said justifies that interjection. I did not bring this matter forward, and therefore, if any politics is being introduced, it is not being done by me, who was going on quietly in my own way.

Senator Pearce - You did bring the regulation forward.

Senator MILLEN - Unquestionably, I did. Shortly after taking office - that is, nearly twelve months ago - I sought to give effect to the views I had expressed here. Can fault be found with me for doing that? If any one is to be charged with reviving this matter to-day, in view of future elections, it cannot be I, who did not make a move at this stage, but Senator Pearce, though I do not think that he did it with that object.

Senator Pearce - No, it is the regulation that did it.

Senator MILLEN - The regulation is there giving effect to a policy which I took the preliminary steps to introduce months ago.

Senator Pearce - We could not deal with the matter till you had framed your regulation.

Senator MILLEN - That is quite right. I do not suggest that there is a political motive underlying the action of Senator Pearce; it was his own colleague who made the suggestion. My honorable friend has gone into a lot of the details of the board's recommendation to myself as to the uniform. I am quite prepared, if necessary, to follow him through all these details. But I want to put them on one side. There is a main question to decide here, quite irrespective of what the colour of the tartan or other details of the uniforms may be. The question is:] Is the Senate favorable to the continuance of a limited number of national regiments or not? The details can be altered as occasion may require, or expediency may suggest. But the main question which the Senate has to decide to-day by vote is whether or not it approves of the action I have taken in authorizing the continuance of certain of these regiments. That being so, I do not propose to occupy very much time in dealing with the details, except so far as they relate to cost. First, I wish to deal with what I regard as the main objection to this proposal. Senator Pearce has stressed the fact that the territorial system which has been adopted cannot work side by side or concurrently with this proposal for national regiments, and he used the phrase that the territorial system would break down if we con tinued the national regiments. I must express my surprise that one who is so well informed as to what is going on in the Department should ever have made a statement of that kind. The territorial system does not break down to-day, and yet it is violated in every State of the Union. I refer to the technical units. We have first of all the ordinary area - the territorial area designed by Lord Kitchener, or in conformity with his scheme - and within this area is raised the ordinary infantry regiment. But from a number of these areas we secure the recruits necessary for the formation of the technical units. That is not really a violation of the principle of the territorial system. It is merely altering the boundaries of the territorial area within which we raise a different unit. That is going on to-day, and it has gone on with the sanction of Senator Pearce from the time the defence scheme was launched, and the system has not broken down. As a matter of fact, the term " territorial " is rather a fetish with my honorable friend. The technical units are territorial just the same as the ordinary infantry regiments in the sense that they are raised from certain areas. The only difference is that we may still raise them in a smaller or a larger area, but the territorial connexion is there all the same. The territorial system does not mean that a complete unit shall be raised in an ordinary training area, or even in a battalion area. How, for instance, are the Light Horse raised? Light Horse regiments are raised sometimes outside the ordinary training area, but more frequently overlapping that area. A case in point is the Light Horse regiment which centres at New England. I mention this case, because in the course of departmental business1 the particulars have come under my notice; but it is only indicative of what prevails in regard to other mounted regiments. These regiments overlap the infantry areas. In one of these areas we give a lad a choice, up to the numbers required, as to whether he will join an infantry regiment or a Light Horse regiment.

Senator Guthrie - Why do you not do that in the Navy?

Senator MILLEN - I will come to that point directly, and I thank my honorable friend for the interjection. When my honorable friend speaks about preference in regard to this system, I ask, What about the preference he showed to the Light Horse? Then we say to a boy, " The Act compels you to serve."

Senator Pearce - It is not a qualification of birth.

Senator Russell - I understand that every Australian has the same right to join the Light Horse ; is not that so ?

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