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Wednesday, 28 April 1915

Mr ANSTEY (Bourke) .- I agree with the honorable member for Flinders that the maintenance of the national existence is the supreme necessity, and that every step necessary to that end is justified, even though it should mean the abrogation of every civil right. But where is the justification for what is proposed ? Where is the indication that the conditions at present necessitate the abrogation of every civil right? What will be my position when this Bill becomes law ? Farewell to friend and foe. No more will be heard of Anstey ! Under the Bill the military chiefs will be able to arrest any man in the community, and do as they please with him. We have had Defence of the Realm Acts, War Precaution Acts, and other measures of the kind ad libitum, and it has been stated in the press that these Acts are the most stringent in existence. Now the Government come forward with a request for additional powers for the military. For what purpose? We ought to be told why these new powers are needed. Have fresh dangers arisen for Australia? Is her position more precarious than it was six months ago ? Have new enemies arisen in our midst? Is there some danger abroad with which the existing laws cannot cope ? Are our present laws inadequate for the necessities of the country ? If they are not adequate, tell us why they are not.

Mr Hughes - Parliament has been told that they are inadequate.

Mr ANSTEY - Broad assertions do not make facts. The Minister of Defence, who introduced the Bill in another place, said that the measure was intended to fill up gaps. He said, " I shall explain its provisions, and shall tell you in detail what is lacking"; but he only talked round about the subject, and gave no explanation, and no explanation has been given in this Chamber. All sorts of crimes and possibilities have been imagined, but we have not been told that contingencies justifying legislation of the kind proposed have arisen. There has been no justification for the suspension of civil law and trial by jury. We have not been told why individuals should be dragged before military tribunals to be sentenced for anything they may do, or say, or write. The honorable member has told us that the Crimes Act is in similar terms. If I do anything to serve the purposes of the enemy I am liable at common law, and if the law makes my deeds punishable with death I am liable to that penalty. But before the penalty can be exacted I must be tried in a civil Court, and must be given an opportunity to defend myself. If my friends will supply me with money, I can hire a lawyer to speak for me, and I can have my case put before a jury of my fellowcountrymen by a civil Judge. What chance should I have were I hauled before a tribunal of military gentlemen, armed with the power of the rack, the gallows and the torture-chamber, whose sentence would not be subject to appeal? The Attorney-General has told us that he will review these sentences. What chance should I have under such circumstances? A court martial atRabaul passed long sentences of imprisonment on five men. Those sentences were subject to review by the Attorney-General; but he has been too busy to review them, and has had to act on the advice tendered by his officials. We hear it whispered everywhere, even in this chamber, that the military can do no harm. I ask to what law is the military authority to be subject when the civil population is subject to the military. To what Court shall armed criminals amongst the chiefs of the Military Forces be brought? Who shall save the common people from their tyranny?

We were told, in regard to the Rabaul cases, that consideration would be given to the sentences later. No doubt, if 1 were brought before a military tribunal at this juncture, and appealed against its sentence to the Attorney-General, he would say, " At the present time the sentence cannot be reviewed," and next morning my neck would be pulled out ten yards. After my death, the case might be reconsidered, but what comfort would there be to me in that? What is the supreme Court of this country? Is Parliament the supreme power in Australia? Is it intended to be the supreme power? I asked a question this afternoon of the Assistant Minister of Defence. I presume that I was within my rights as a member of Parliament in asking that question. I presume, too, this being a free community, that members of this Parliament have the right to be reported in the newspapers of the country. The Minister answered my question, but the Minister of Defence gave instructions to the military authorities to exercise the power which they possess of refusing permission to the press to allow the question to appear in any newspaper in Australia.

Mr Fisher - Hear, hear!

Mr ANSTEY - Last night the GovernorGeneral informed the public of this country that the Australian troops are at Gallipoli. Have I not the right to the same information as is given to the Governor-General ?

Mr Fisher - The honorable member got that information.

Mr ANSTEY - It was suppressed, so far as the newspapers were concerned. I demand rights co-equal with those of the Governor- General.

Mr Fisher - I said the Minister would give the information to this Parliament, and that that was as far as it would go. The honorable member got the information.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Is this standing behind your country at a time of crisis?

Mr ANSTEY - I am here to express an opinion.


Mr ANSTEY - Well, explode; and it would not be a bad thing if the honorable member did the same.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The Prime Minister is entitled to a little more respect.

Mr ANSTEY - The Prime Minister is entitled to that amount of respect which he earns from the men assembled about him. I take it that the Prime Minister asks for no hero worship. I presume he isma n enough to take any criticism that may be offered, and respects an honest conviction openly expressed rather than the remarks of those who smile behind his back, and are not as candid as I am. I may be wrong in what I am saying, but I make no apology for my remarks. Here we have an exhibition of the power of the. military in its untrammelled form. They put no closure upon the utterances of the Governor-General, who was primed by a Minister of the present Government, and at a public function gave information which was published in the press, whilst I, who asked for information to use in my position in Parliament, am refused the right to have it made public. I again demand co-equal rights with the GovernorGeneral. There can be no justification for giving publicity to his remarks on the question, and placing a military embargo on mine. "What are we asked to give adherence to? For what are we to be punished? For a violation of this measure. I could understand it if we were asked to give adherence to an Act of Parliament which laid down specific charges, and which set out, in the same manner as the Crimes Act does, the several offences, and the allotted penalty for each. We are not asked to vote for anything specified in this Bill, however, but for regulations that may be made hereafter by the military, and under those regulations we are to be punished for some offence of which, at present, we have no knowledge.

Mr Hughes - The regulations must be laid on the table.

Mr ANSTEY - Yes ; and very often they are made and put into execution when Parliament is not sitting.

Mr Hughes - You know that would not happen in this case.

Mr ANSTEY - I do not. The Bill provides that the Governor-General may make regulations to secure "the public safety." What is the public safety?

Mr Hughes - This Parliament safeguards the public safety. If it does not, it is not doing its duty.

Mr ANSTEY - I do not think Parliament is doing its duty. The GovernorGeneral is to make regulations to secure the public safety, and the military autho rities are to be the judges of what is public safety. They will be able to suppress freedom of speech and the liberty of the press; and if, under these powers, the military authorities can suppress individual liberty in that way, may not the Government also exorcise these powers during the currency of the war to protect the general public against the robbers who exploit them within our borders? If they can suppress the right of a man to express his opinion, may they not utilize the same power against those people referred to by the honorable member for Wannon, who unjustly raised the price of fodder? But we do not do that, and Parliament has no intention of doing it. The honorable member for Wannon was very ardent in speaking on that question. Here is his chance of demonstrating that he can put his vote and effort behind his affirmation by demanding that the power in this measure shall be not only exercised in suppressing the freedom of subjects, but shall deal also with the Meat Combine and those other trusts which are operating as much as any other body to the detriment of the public safety. It is provided that the authorities may prevent the transmission of newspapers or letters except through the medium of the post. Soldiers in Rabaul write letters tome to protest against the iniquities there; but their letters arc censored, and I must receive them by hand. So a soldier gives a letter to some stoker on a ship, and asks him to forward it to me; but if those men do such a thing after this Bill is passed, they will be liable to be shot.

Mr Hughes - That is not only Untrue, but absurd.

Mr Watt - That provision is to prevent the transmission abroad of letters.

Mr ANSTEY - The letters sent by the soldiers from New Guinea are censored in the same maimer. Either the censor scores out or cuts out certain passages, or the letters are handed back to be rewritten. They have no means of transmitting their grievances except by hand. Then the Bill goes on to refer to the prevention of the spread of false reports - there will be plenty of need for that - " or reports likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty." Poor George! After this Bill is passed, I must keep my mouth shut, and be all " mum."

If the military are once "put on" to me it will be all over with me! By subclause 8 of clause 4 the military are to be given absolute and untrammelled power to take into custody any citizen they like, bring him before their judgment seat, and mete out to him the most awful and atrocious punishment. We are told that this is all intended to safeguard the country. Do we not remember, under the old Factories Acts, how it was set out that the hours of labour should be soandso, while it was also provided that, if somebody chose, the operation of the provision could be suspended. The same feature could be 'observed in connexion with the old anti-sweating legislation, in which one section declared that sweating should not exist, while another said that it might go on if some one gave permission. And so in this Bill the provision to which I take exception will come into operation only, it is said, in a " special military great emergency"; but we all know that any meaning may be read into those words. Where did the Government get this provision from ? Here we have a Government composed of men called from the ranks of Labour, who are supposed to he members of the most radical organization on earth, to be imbued with exalted ideas of human liberty, to be keen for the preservation of human rights, and to be animated by a desire to cripple all the powers that in any way impinge on our freedom. In another place, Senator Millen asked whether the Government were " following the language of the Imperial Act in regard to this provision," and to that Senator Pearce replied, "Yes." The Government did not develop this as an original idea; but there arrived a steam-boat from England with a new Bill. In the House of Lords, which is supposed to be the most Tory of all Houses of Parliament, composed of what Disraeli called the " new-rich," of the miserable, moneyed classes, the members showed themselves to be instinct with liberty. Here, however, this Radical Government, while in sub-clause 6 they provide for a civil Court, in sub-clause 8 provide that civilians may be deprived of the right. I decline to vote for a single line of such a provision. If any one can show me that dangers menace us, I am prepared to give up the right of free speech, and of a free press - to give up every individual right - in order to maintain the existence of the country ; but I must be shown that it is necessary to take steps far beyond those taken by any country actively engaged in the war. We are being simply swept away by one vast tide that isoverwhelming our ideas of human rights and liberties; and I refuse to let it be thought for one moment that I can give my adherence to such a proposal.

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