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Wednesday, 28 October 1914

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I want to bring before the Committee a case which has arisen under the Defence Act. When the Defence Bill was going through the Senate, it contained a clause allowing the Department a period of twelve months in which to take action, but the Committee, in its wisdom, reduced the period to six months. When the annual audit took place, deficiencies in chaff were discovered in Queensland. A search was made, and finally the responsibility was found to rest upon a certain officer. But when we came to take proceedings against him we found that more than six months had passed - as a matter of fact, nine mouths had elapsed - and the consequence was that he was allowed to go scot free.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - -What was the offence, and what was the punishment?

Senator PEARCE - The offence was taking chaff the property of the Commonwealth, selling it, and pocketing the proceeds.

Senator Keating - You could prosecute him now.

Senator PEARCE - It was found that we could not prosecute the offender because the Defence Act contained a specific condition dealing with the misappropriation of property of the Department.

Senator Turley - That was a serious offence, but we are dealing now with minor offences.

Senator PEARCE - Again, take cases arising under the Maternity Allowance Act. Cases of misappropriation have occurred, and wrongful claims have been made. In some cases the discovery of the offence was made at a time when it was too late to lodge a prosecution. I only mention these cases to show that a longer period than six months has elapsed before offences have been discovered. If the Committee, with that knowledge in their possession, like to shorten the term in this clause, they are welcome to do so. There have been found cases of fraud, but we have not been able to take action because the period for lodging a prosecution had passed.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [9.20].- The very cases which the Minister of Defence has cited are cases which would not be affected by the proposed alteration of this clause. Both the cases involved fraud, and, therefore, are not applicable to the contention raised from this side. If we had proposed to make an alteration of paragraph a, the Minister's objection would hold good, but it certainly would not hold good in regard to paragraphs b and c.

Senator Findley - Why have a limitation of six months if it is bad to have any period of limitation ?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - A limitation of six months gives a reasonable time in which to lodge a prosecution. It follows the practice of Great Britain and of every State in the Commonwealth. In the case of an indictable offence, no limitation is proposed or sought to be proposed. To bring this discussion to a head, I move -

That the words " one year," line 13, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words " six months."

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