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Friday, 30 April 1915

Mr JENSEN (Bass) (Assistant Min ister) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

The principal object of this Bill is to give statutory authority to certain Acts of the Government of the Commonwealth since the commencement of the war. It contains no important principles. Its object is really to fill up gaps that have been discovered, the most important of these being the fixing of the application of the Army Act. Under section 55 of the principal Act, when Defence Forces of the Commonwealth are called out for active service the Army Act applies, but the application of that Act is somewhat vague. It is desired to make it more definite and to put it beyond doubt' that it applies both within and without the limits of the Commonwealth. An amendment of the existing law in that respect is therefore embodied in this Bill. At the beginning of this session, we passed an Amending Defence Bill, which was designed to legalize the raising of Expeditionary Forces. At the outbreak of the war the then Government took the necessary action to raise those Forces, but there was really no complete authority in the Defence Act for that action, and an Amending Bill was therefore introduced to legalize it. Unfortunately that Bill, which was introduced at the beginning of the session, was not dated back to the commencement of the war, and therefore it became operative only as from the date on which it was assented to, which was subsequent to the raising of the Expeditionary Force despatched to New Guinea. It is desirable that we should bring these actions of our predecessors within the scope of the law, and this Bill will have that effect. Then again, under the law as it stands, no power is given to surveyors in the Department to enter upon private property to carry out certain necessary surveys.

Mr Groom - Does the Minister refer to surveys for acquisition purposes?

Mr JENSEN - Not altogether. It is sometimes necessary for our surveyors to enter upon private property in the neighbourhood of defended ports in order to put in certain pegs that will enable our Forces to know exactly the radius within which they have to operate. Some trouble has arisen with regard to this matter, and in certain cases pegs so put in have been disturbed. We now desire that the Defence Department shall have statutory authority for such action. Since the commencement of the war the Department has found it necessary, as an act of justice, to adopt a certain course, although it was doubtful whether we had the legal right to do so. For instance, as I mentioned in this House a few days ago, certain men enlisted for active service under assumed names, and stated they were unmarried. After their departure for the front, however, it was discovered that they were married, and the Department has assumed the responsibility of paying for the maintenance of their wives and children a portion of the money due to them. It is contended that under the law as it stands, these men, if they returned to-morrow, could claim a refund of the money so paid unless the authority for which we ask in this Bill be given to us.

Mr West - Did they not make sworn declarations'?

Mr JENSEN - They made declarations, but on ascertaining the true facts, the Department allotted to their wives and children, whom they left behind, a proportion of their pay. We seek under this Bill authority for the action thus taken.

Mr Groom - Is the Bill made retrospective in this respect?

Mr JENSEN - Yes; the clause dealing with the matter dates back to 1st August. That was some three days before the declaration of war, but even then the late Government doubtless had a good idea that war would be declared, because of circumstances: of which they knew. I do not think any one will object to the action we have taken in regard to these women and children. I regret to say that a good many cases of the kind have been discovered. Another matter with which this Bill deals, relates to fines inflicted on employers for dismissing employes because of their attendance at drills as required by law. Under the law as it stands, if it be proved that a member of the Citizen Forces is dismissed from his employment because of attending drill or a camp of instruction that he is commanded' to attend, then the employer may be fined, and the fine so inflicted is paid into the consolidated revenue. The Government consider that where it is proved - and it has been proved in many cases - that a citizen soldier has been thrown out of work owing to the action of his employer in dismissing him because of the service thus rendered by him to his country, the fine imposed by the Court should be paid to the soldier who has suffered. The clause dealing with this matter provides that -

The Court may direct that the whole or any part of any penalty recovered from an employer for penalizing or prejudicing in his employment or attempting to penalize or prejudice in his employment any employe for rendering or being liable to render the personal service required of him or for attending a camp of instruction as aforesaid may be paid to the employe.

Many men have been thrown out of employment by unscrupulous employers who have objected to their attending drill as required by law.

Mr Glynn - The danger is in giving this power to the Court. The Court could not know what might occur within a fortnight. The power should be vested in the Minister, who would be in a better position 'to know all the facts. Under this clause the Government are proposing to pay a man compensation before any loss is proved.

Mr JENSEN - Where it can be shown to the Court that a citizen soldier has suffered - that he has been thrown out of work - because of the action of his employer in dismissing him for attending drill, then the Government think he should receive the fine imposed.

Mr Groom - .Should it not be regarded as compensation for actually proved loss? If a man is injured he should receive compensation, but here power is given the Court to grant compensation by way of penalizing the offender.

Mr JENSEN - The matter will be within the discretion of the Court, which may direct that the whole or any part of the penalty shall be paid to the person injured. I do not think that there can be any opposition to .this Bill. We indorse the action of our predecessors, and commend them for it. We should have done just what they did had we been in power, and we feel sure that they would have similarly honoured our obligations.

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