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Wednesday, 13 April 1921

Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) .- I think the Senate, constituted as it is, with only one member in opposition, should view Bills of this sort introduced by the Government, I will not say with suspicion, but with a good deal of caution, because, as Senator Gardiner has pointed out, it is going to add enormously to our present burdens. The Bill may be a necessary one, because it' would appear that we must have an Air' Force of some kind. But this is surely beyond our needs. It seems that the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) is proposing to call into existence with a wave of the hand an Air Force which would be adequate in time of war, and going to that extent is surely unnecessary. Generally in regard to the military affairs of the Commonwealth, I think that criticism applies,, because the policy of the Defence Department is apparently directed by those who are determined at all costs to maintain in Australia a Force similar in every_ respect to that which we maintained in the field in the face of the enemy. There is absolutely no necessity for such a policy, and I fear that at the root of it there is the desire of certain highlyplaced officers to continue to occupy, not the positions they held before the war at a reasonable salary, but others. They dislike being compelled, as citizen officers were, to revert to their old employment and remuneration. They have seen the opportunity of building up a huge military machine under which they will be able, to hold positions similar to those which they occupied during the period of the war. A mere skeleton army would have sufficed for many years, and I cannot see any reason why the Australian Imperial Force should be reproduced in all its branches at the present juncture. On several occasions I have brought this fact under the notice of the Minister for Defence, and he has retorted by saying that the military machine, as at present constituted, will not cost more than it did under the old system. If that is so, the Department must have been enormously overstaffed .in the past, and the responsibility of contradicting that rests with the Minister's Department.

Turning from these general remarks to the Bill before the Senate, I desire to criticise its provisions in many respects. In the first instance, it seems to carry to extremes the policy which has been followed too much by this Parliament, and that is government by regulations. Power is given under this measure to make regulations relating to all sorts of matters. Such regulations are framed and come into force without being discussed by the representatives of the people. This Bill perpetuates that evil, as there is hardly a clause which does not include the words " as prescribed," and concerning which there is no definition.

Senator Keating - That is to be found in the Acts Interpretation Act.

Senator ELLIOTT - The Defence Act gives a definition, which ought to be embodied in this measure. It reads " prescribed " means " prescribed by this Act." Apparently it is the intention of the Government to go further, as the regulations referred to are not only those prescribed under this Act, but under other Acts. It appears that it is intended to covertly introduce the whole of the Air Defence Act, without the necessary consideration being given to the regulations, or without honorable senators having an opportunity of discussing them in detail, and I am totally opposed to such a procedure.

During the course of his second-reading speech, the Minister stated that in this Bill preference was to be given to exmembers of the Australian Imperial Force staff. But one looks in vain for any such provision, although I trust that the Minister will recognise the wisdom of inserting it. Whilst the honorable gentleman 'was speaking I made an interjection regarding transfers and re-transfers from the Naval and Military Forces to the Air Force, and back again. In a new Force like this, many rapid promotions may be expected during the first few years. It will be found that certain officers with, social or other influence behind them, will transfer into it. gain rapid promotion, and then re-transfer to the other Forces, thus getting into positions to which they are not entitled by reason of their service. I propose at the proper time to submit an amendment which is designed to prevent that sort of thing.

A provision is contained in the Bill which will prevent an officer being arbitrarily dismissed. It is provided that his commission cannot be cancelled unless he has first been given an opportunity of meeting any charge or complaint which has been levelled against him. But while it is bad to dismiss an officer without a reason, it is still worse to supersede him or to promote a man over his head without affording him a chance of objecting to such a procedure. I trust that proper provision wilbe made in the Bill to prevent that sort of thing. Personally, I would rather dismiss a man outright than retain him in the Service, bearing in his bosom an acute realization that, despite every effort he may make, because of some personal spite against him, or because of some one's greater social influence, the officers about him will have an advantage over him at every step in his career. Better to sack him at once.

Under our Defence Act a number of regulations are issued from time to time, all of which are prepared by the' higher authorities. These regulations provide all sorts of pains and penalties in respect of the unfortunate underling. But suppose the higher authorities do not obey the regulations, what power is there in the Minister to enforce obedience? Some of our Defence regulations provide most minutely for the procedure which is to be followed with a view to the redress of grievances. For example, a soldier must appeal to his captain, and so on, right up to the Military Board. But I know from bitter experience during the recent war, that that provision was habitually and deliberately ignored, and that threats and duress were applied to prevent an officer exercising his statutory right of appeal to the Minister. Worse than that, when these facts were brought home to the Minister himself, he said that he had no power to interfere. I intend, therefore, to endeavour to prevent a repetition of this state of affairs by framing a provision which will compel any officer, no matter how highly placed he may be, to do what the regulations plainly intend that he should do.

Senator Wilson - Who should have the final say, if not the Minister ?

Senator ELLIOTT - The provision which I hope to insert in the Bill will permit any injured person to bring an action for damages in our civil Courts. He may go outside the Service if he is being compelled to acquiesce in an injury by a threat from a superior officer as to what will otherwise happen to him.

Senator Wilson - I do not think that the members of the Service will welcome the opportunity of settling their disputes in a civil Court if their experiences are like my own.

Senator ELLIOTT - At any rate, the provision will be there in terrorem. It is necessary, particularly in time of war, to invest military officers with great powers of discretion - in fact, to give them for the time being almost unfettered power. Seeing that they haveto be intrusted with almost despoticpower, it is the duty of the Ministerto insure that if they are false totheir trust they shall be adequately punished. When in other days it was the practice of great judicial officers in England to accept gifts and bribes from suitors, and to be influenced by such gifts and bribes, the matter at length came under the notice of the Imperial Parliament. There was in England at that time a very great man indeed, a man whose name shines down upon us through the ages - I refer to Lord Bacon. When he was Chancellor of England he accepted a bribe, and was thereby influenced to give judgment against a party who happened to come before him. The matter was brought up in the House of Commons, whose members realized the greatness of the culprit, but also recognised the gravity of his offence. In the course of the speeches which were delivered upon that occasion a story was narrated which I shall repeat, it was said by one speaker that there was a great Emperor in the East who appointed a Judge with great powers because it was obviously impossible for the Emperor himself to attend to all matters which had to be adjusted. In the course of the administration of his great office, the Judge, influenced by a bribe, gave judgment against a poor widow.

This fact came to the knowledge of the great King, who, to prevent such a thing happening again in his kingdom, took the Judge, and had him skinned alive, and then had the judgment seat lined with his skin, in order that every Judge who might occupy it thereafter should be re- - minded of the fate of an improper Judge.

Senator Rowell - The honorable senator is not suggesting that the Military Board will accept bribes?

Senator ELLIOTT - No. But where officers have to be intrusted with despotic power - power to decide matters of life and death - they should be made to realize their responsibilities, if not in such a drastic manner, at least in a manner which they will not "readily forget.

I have mentioned the fact that officers, by means of social or other influences, may gain substantial advantages. It may be thought that in our Australian Forces such a. thing would not be possible. But I can cite at least one instance of the kind, which I- can prove if necessary, by documentary evidence.. There w©re two officers in France, one of whom I personally recommended for training as a staff officer. He was one of the most enthusiastic young officers we 'had in Victoria. He enlisted, went to the war, and performed brilliantly. Against him was another officer who had never joined the Forces here, and who was looked upon as a social butterfly. He was a wealthy man, who was able to "shout " car trips for some of the senior officers in Paris. He was also recommended to undergo the staff course. Both officers left Franco for England in order to go through that course. The man with influence, however, was sent to the .Staff College at Cambridge, whilst the other was diverted to Tidworth, Salisbury Plain, and never got to the Staff College at all. As a matter of fact, he was put in an office on Salisbury Plain, and I had to make a personal appeal to General Birdwood in order to get him back into the field.* Until then there were influences at work which prevented him getting back there. Eventually the staff officer who had been recommended by reason of his social influence came back to me. He was placed upon my staff, despite my most vehement - protest that he was totally unfit for the position. I was simply told that I had to take him, and that if I did not like it

I could resign. The result was that every time we went into action my own reputation, and, indeed, the lives of the men under my command, were unnecessarily risked. Protests were made on my behalf by officers senior to myself, but without avail. At length, however, we arrived at a most critical period of the war. My brigade held a position in the front line. Three battalions were there, and there was a fourth battalion in reserve. I instructed this particular staff officer to send word to the battalion in reserve that it was to move across the river to a place where it would have better shelter from shell fire.* It was suffering pretty badly from shell fire at the time. I also told him to inform the three battalions in the front line of the change which had been made in the disposition of the reserve. This boy - for he was only a boy, not much more than twenty-one years of age - had no earthly right to be placed in such a responsible position. His thoughts were always with his best girl in London, and he could not sleep in anything rougher than silk pyjamas at ten guineas a suit. Yet, despite my protests - and they were pretty vehement - I had to put up with him until this particular event happened. What was the result? We held, with a very thin line, a vital part of the enemy line. Yet this young officer so mutilated the order which I gave him that the battalion in reserve. and also the three battalions in the front line, received an instruction something like the following: - "You have at once to cross the river and take up such-and-such a position." Had that order been obeyed there would have been a break in our line nearly 3 miles long, and our men would have crossed the river under an annihilating enemy fire. Honorable senators would imagine that such a thing could not go unpunished. I reported the matter, and while the man was certainly removed from my staff, he was not sent back to Australia, but was sent elsewhere and promoted. When such things can happen, and when, on one's return to Australia he cannot have the matter even inquired into,' or placed before the Minister, it will be admitted that our present system needs radical alteration. I hope that in the consideration of this amending Bill we shall make it utterly impossible, should a son of mine have to serve his country in war, that he could he placed in the position in which I was placed.

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