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Wednesday, 28 April 1915

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE (Flinders) . - I want to congratulate the honorable member for Darwin upon his resuscitation. It is so long since we heard from him that we were beginning to think that he had been reduced to the condition of his friends in the Senate when this Bill wasgoing through. I have already stated that I, for one, like all on this side of the House, am going to support the Government in any measure, no matter how severe or drastic it may be, which they, after full consideration, think necessary to meet the present emergency. But it would be a very great mistake if this House were to pass anything, even in an emergency, under a misapprehension, and I think there is likely to be a very serious misapprehension with regard to the effect of this measure if the statement made a short time ago by the Assistant Minister of Defence is permitted to pass without criticism. He states that we are how living under martial law.

Mr Jensen - No; I did not say " martial law."

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE - Military law; I beg the honorable gentleman's pardon - and that this Bill will only have the effect of relieving us from some of the effects of that military law.

Mr Jensen - And give other powers as well.

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE - Other powers with regard to that particular matter; but I want to point out that that statement is likely to leave a totally false impression as to the effect of this Bill. It. is true that in the Bill passed six months ago there was a provision authorizing trials by courts martial of people who broke certain very limited regulations, and it was well, then, that that power of establishing trial by court martial should be limited to the breach of the narrow regulations considered necessary for carrying on ordinary military operations.

Mr Jensen - I said against the Defence Act or the War Precautions Act. I distinctly stated that.

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE - The honorable member's speech left undoubtedly a wrong impression as to the effects of this Bill, and it is just as well that the Committee should understand it. The regulations as to which there was to be tried by courts martial under the existing law were regulations as to those matters mentioned in paragraphs a, b, and c, of clause 2, which, put briefly, were intended to prevent persons communicating with the enemy, to secure the safety of means of communication, and to prevent the spread of reports likely to cause disaffection. It is quitetrue that, rightly or wrongly, this Parliament gave power six months ago making these particular offences, or offences created under regulations relating to these particular matters, the subject of court martial. But I would point out their extremely narrow and particular application.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - What about the death penalty?

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE - It mightbe passed in cases of communicating withthe enemy with a view of aiding; theenemy against ourselves. But that is notthe point I am dealing with. I am pointing out that, under the present law, trial by courts martial is limited to that particular class of offence against regulations dealing directly with the military operations for the defence of the Commonwealth. The existing law gives the widest power possible for making regulations with regard to the safety of the Commonwealth. But, though the power of making regulations is greater under the existing law, the class of regulation, breaches of which were made the subject of military law, is extremely narrow. By proposed new section 6 it is set forth that 5' Any person who contravenes, or fails to

Mr Watt - No, they have not said that yet.

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE - I presume i.that they would not have introduced the Bill if. they had not come to such a decision. :Before the Bill passes, I should like the Prime Minister, or the Assistant

Minister of Defence, to definitely and clearly state that after mature consideration these vast powers are, in the opinion of the Government, necessary for the safety of the Commonwealth. If they said that, I for one should be prepared to shut my eyes to every other consideration, and I think honorable members on both sides should be prepared to do so. But it is' of no use to minimize the effect of the provisions of this Bill. We should recognise exactly what they are. If the Government will seriously assert that the powers asked for are necessary, I am satisfied that the Committee will support them.

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