Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 2 November 1911

Senator RAE (New South Wales) .- I move-

That, in the opinion of the Senate -

1.   The Defence Act should be so amended as to clearly set forth that the object of creating a Citizen Defence Force based upon universal compulsory military training and service is for the purpose of defending the Commonwealth against possible foreign aggression, and, therefore, under no circumstances should any person so enrolled be compelled to bear arms against any fellow Australian citizen notwithstanding anything contained in the oath of allegiance or in any other conditions of compulsory service.

2.   That the foregoing resolution be conveyed by message to the House of Representatives for its concurrence.

I am sorry that honorable senators on both sides of the House will not accord this motion the same genial treatment that was accorded to the motion which has just been dealt with. I feel convinced that no person with any real regard for democratic government can seriously oppose this motion. I think I might well ask our democratic Government to accept it, and to endeavour to embody the principle which it contains in the law. I have been met with oneor two objections, which I will deal with briefly. I have been told that the Constitution Act stands in the way of the Defence Act being framed in the manner which the motion affirms to be desirable. I have not studied the whole of the Constitution recently, but the only section I recollect bearing upon that question is section119, which provides that the Commonwealth must protect every State against invasion, and. at the request of any State, against domestic violence.

Senator Walker - Does not that section seem to the honorable senator to be contradictory of the motion?

Senator RAE - As far as I can see, that is the only section of the Constitution which bears upon the subject-matter of my motion. But I think that it is an entire misapprehension of the meaning and effect of the section to say that my proposal is a negation of it. For one thing, I do not ask that any part of the Commonwealth, or any State, should be exposed to domestic violence. I do not seek to bring about a state of things in which one State might take up arms against another, or in which a State might take up arms against the Commonwealth.

Senator Walker - There might be an insurrection against the Commonwealth in a State.

Senator Millen - In the event of that happening - What ?

Senator Givens - Suppose the Premier of a State did anything similar to what Joe Carruthers did in New South Wales, when he seized the wire-netting?

Senator RAE - I am not desirous that any such condition of things shall arise as that any part of the Commonwealth shall bc exposed to domestic violence or to aggression from any other part. Nor do I think that the terms of my motion, if translated into law, would have such an effect. I do not think that it would prevent the Commonwealth from doing what was necessary in the event of an insurrection, or an industrial upheaval, or such an event as occurred in connexion with the wire-netting seizure. I do not wish to shirk the consideration of such possibilities, but .1 do not think that my motion would have the effect of allowing domestic violence to proceed unchecked. J. will, however, pursue my own line of argument, and my critics can deal with the subject in. their own way afterwards.

Senator Millen - As far as I understand the honorable senator's argument, his own motion does not square with it.

Senator RAE - I am going to endeavour to show, in my own way, that my motion is quite consistent with the views I have just expressed. In the first place, I wish to point out that no one can seriously contend that in any civilized country of the world - or, at any rate, in Australia - there would be any possibility of inducing the majority of the electors to consent to a system of compulsory military training and service were it not for the fear of outside aggression. The menace (of {attack from Germany, or from Japan, or from; any other Power which may hereafter loom up on the international horizon - the fear that' some foreign Power may, at some time, cast covetous glances on Australia, and ultimately carry out its designs by invading this country - is really at the bottom of the whole- system of compulsory military training, and the justification for its institution. I venture to say that no one will seriously contend that there would have been any possible chance of securing universal military service with: in the Commonwealth were it not for that fear. It is only since that fear has loomed up largely, and in a tangible form, owing to the success of Japan in her war with Russia, that people have seriously considered the possibility of invasion, and sought to provide against it. Of course, for as many years back as I can recollect there were periodical Russian and other scares from time to time. But they were mere flashes in the pan, and never seriously aroused the whole people to. a realization of the possibility of danger from a welldefined quarter. That possibility has been the real cause for the agitation for compulsory military service becoming crystallized in the form of legislation. The same reason also has probably actuated other civilized countries which have adopted compulsory military service or conscription. If .it were possible to banish entirely from the minds of the community those fears, which, undoubtedly, do exist - that no matter how peaceful our intentions may be we may be menaced by an outside foe - it would be impossible for any Government or any Parliament to enforce any system of compulsory military service. I say, therefore, that a person who is compelled to enroll in order that he may do his share in defending his country in its hour of need is so enrolled for that purpose and that only ; and that were any other purpose, or any other object, set forth as the justification for universal military training, it would be the death knell of the system. That leads me also to state this point of. view. No person who voluntarily becomes a member of any permanent military force can be otherwise than aware of the fact that he must obey orders, go wherever he may be sent, and do whatever he may be told. He accepts service under those terms and conditions, and with the clear knowledge that the requirements that I have indicated' may be expected from, him at any time. But the Government of the Commonwealth now gives no choice - and I say rightly so - to the young citizen, as to whether he shall serve or not. The law of this country says to him, "You must serve." If he says he does not wish to do so, or if his parents say, " Why should He ? " the only answer is : "As every man enjoys the measure of civilization and liberty which our Constitution provides for us, it is his duty to do his share in defending those advantages, and in defending the great possession which he shares with the rest of his fellow-citizens in this continent." The demand for service from our youths and men is based entirely on those grounds. My contention, therefore, is that as the young soldier is enrolled for one object, and as that object is the only justification for compelling him to serve, the defence of this country against aggression should be the only duty imposed upon him. If anything more is wanted from him in the nature of military service he may, if he pleases, volunteer; but he should not be compelled to serve otherwise. If there were no system of compulsory military service at all, there would be nothing to prevent a man from serving under whatever banner he chose or in whatever service he chose. Therefore, if my motion were carried, there would be nothing to prevent every one of our recruits who is now enrolled from volunteering for the suppression of domestic violence. But my object is to lay down the principle that not one of these compulsorily enrolled recruits shall be compelled to bear arms against his fellow Australian citizens if he does not' desire to undertake that service.

Senator Lynch - Then the honorable senator would have a kind of Pinkerton gang?

Senator Millen - Suppose one State revolted ?

Senator RAE - I take it that Senator Lynch's allusion to the Pinkerton gang refers to the possibility of the raising of paid mercenary troops by some huge capitalistic concern such as Carnegie's, in America, where capitalists, not being able to avail themselves of the services of the Federal troops, armed private detectives - a privatelyenrolled soldiery - to shoot down strikers. But that is absolutely the opposite to what would occur under my motion. The argument used by many persons in jus,tification of compulsory enrolment is that if there were any domestic violence, one side would be as well prepared as the other. I have heard numbers of workers and Labour supporters say that they only approved of compulsory military training, and only consented to it because, whichever side was on top for the time being, the other side would be well able to defend itself, possessing die training and the arms to enable it to do so ; so that, if there were any trouble of the kind, the two sides which took a hand in it would be almost on equal terms. But I point out that if there were an industrial upheaval, a strike of a serious nature, a revolt, or anything of the kind, the position would be this : that the persons employed by the Defence authorities would, in the pursuance of their duties and obligations, be able to shoot down any one who resisted them, whilst the persons who resisted, and who utilized the training and the arms they possessed to defend themselves, would, in the eyes of. the law, be traitors and rebels, and liable to be shot or punished in some other way. So that, whilst the two parties might contend on physically equal terms, there would be no real equality between them, because, while the one party would be doing its duty, the others would be traitors. Where equality comes in under such circumstances I. cannot see. I contend that, in the event of such an occurrence as Senator Millen referred to just now, the position would be this : First of all, you have a certain number of paid soldiers in the Commonwealth, and probably we shall always have some. There must be a staff of permanent artillery men and of officers and instructors. You would also have all those who might be willing to volunteer for service, no matter how enrolled. These would constitute a powerful force. But no one should be compelled to shoot down his fellow Australians, or run the risk of being ordered to do so, simply because he obeys the law with regard to compulsory military service.. He should be excused from that kind of service, and kept to that for which the system was created, namely, to defend the country from outside aggression. In re:ference to the wire-netting episode in New South Wales, which Senator Givens has mentioned, it has been said- and it was urged at the time of the occurrence by some individuals - that the Federal troops should have been called out to effect the arrest of those who acted under the orders of the State Premier at the time ; and that, by force, the wire-netting should have been restored to the place where it was landed. But could any one say, in view of the excitement that prevailed at that time, that the result of the forceful seizure of the netting would have been as satisfactory as what followed from the action which the Federal Government took? The Law Courts were resorted to in the ordinary way to determine whether the State Premier acted rightly or whether the Federal Government was in the right. Was anything lost to the " peace, order, and good government " of the Commonwealth because, instead of the hasty counsels that some urged being followed, the Government gave an opportunity for heated feelings to cool down, and appealed to the Law Courts in the ordinary manner ? Let. us see what would have happened if compulsory military training had been in force at the time, and the desire of those who wanted military action to be taken had been carried out. I am prepared to say - and I think that honorable senators from New South Wales will agree with me, both those who sit in Opposition and those who sit on my own side of the Senate-

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator is not speaking for this side tonight.

Senator RAE - I was in New South Wales at the time of the dispute, and I say thatpublic feeling, wrongly, I believe, was on the side of Sir Joseph Carruthers. I honestly believe, and I think the other New South Wales representatives will agree with me, that the State Premier, by' his dramatic and perhaps rather tactful move - from a political point of view; - fired the imagination of a very large proportion of the people of New South Wales, who were with him in the wire-netting raid.

Senator Givens - That is a very uncomplimentary thing to say about New South Wales.

Senator RAE - I am not here to bandy compliments, whether they affect my own State or any other. I am' dealing with facts.

Senator Millen - As the honorable senator has referred to other New South Wales representatives, I may say that I do not share his opinion as to the view of the people of New South Wales with reference to that incident.

Senator Walker - Hear, hear !

Senator RAE - It is a matter of opinion. At any rate, Senator Millen cannot dispute this fact : that whether there was a majority for Sir Joseph Carruthers in New South. Wales or not, certainly a large number of persons openly expressed their admiration for and approval of the Premier's action on that occasion.

Senator Walker - Anti- Federalists, no doubt.

Senator RAE - Not necessarily ; but we need not quibble about matters which we cannot prove. There was a large body of the people, and I believe a majority at the time, in favour of the action taken by. the

Premier of New South Wales. At any rate, the number of persons who approved his action was so great that, had it been resolved to resort to military force on that occasion - which I think would have been a fatal blunder - and had the compulsory military principle been in operation for a few years, what would have happened would have been that New South Wales citizens would have been called upon toconduct active military operations against a large body of personal relatives and fellow countrymen, who honestly believed that Sir Joseph Carruthers did the right thing. There might have been civil war within the State, and father, son, and brother might have been shooting each other down. It is rather far-fetched, I admit, to suppose that any sane Government would force things to that length when the matter might be settled in a Court of Law. But if the views of extremists had been carried into effect under our compulsory military service, that would have been the position in which citizens of New South Wales would have been placed.

Senator Givens - What would have been. the good of appealing to a Court if there had been no army to enforce its decisions?

Senator RAE - That is a very pertinent interjection, I admit, but I say that if what I propose in this motion were a part of the law-

Senator Givens - There would have to be an army to enforce that.

Senator RAE - I cannot reply to three or four interjections at a time. Supposing the principle affirmed by my motion had been a part of our Defence Act at the time, as well as the principle of compulsory military service, if it had been considered necessary to conduct military operations against New South Wales, probably a large majority of the citizens of the other States would have been found willing to suppress the revolt in New South Wales, and to shoot down its citizens. But in that case no citizen of New South Wales would have been called upon to imbrue his hands with' his brother's blood, or against his will to shoot down his father, at the word of command of any authority. Further, let me say that even those citizens of New South Wales who believed in suppressing the rebellious State would have been just as free to do so had my motion formed a part of the Defence Act as they would be under the Act as it stands. Again, the paid officers and men of the force in New South Wales would have been free to take part in suppressing that State.

SenatorMillen. - Then the honorable senatorhas no objection to officers shooting their fathers and brothers?

SenatorLynch. - Not so long as they are paid for it, apparently.

Senator RAE - I have no objection, so far as these men are concerned, because, if Senator Millen will do me the j ustice to try to understand my proposal, instead of raising quibbles against it, he will see that I consider that a man who enlists as a paid soldier knows that he may have to undertake these unpleasant duties at any time.

Senator Millen - But the bulk of our officers are not paid.

Senator RAE - Some would be paid, and what I say would apply only to them. When they take pay as soldiers, they accept the risk of having to fulfil these unpleasant and, perhaps, revolting tasks. But, under the Defence Act, we force every citizen, against his will in many cases, to become a soldier, to fulfil the patriotic duty of defending the country against an outside foe. But we may also, unless the Act is amended in the way I suggest, force him to shoot down father or brother should there be a disturbance in any part of the Commonwealth. That is an absolutely unfair, unjust, and undemocratic position to put any man in, and still more to put a boy in. For some years the defenders of the Commonwealth under our Act will be under the age of twenty-one years, and for all time there will be in succession a certain proportion of them under that age. It is entirely unreasonable, in my opinion, to provide that a mere boy may be compelled at any time to shoot down his fellow Australian citizens at theword of command of any Government. We may not always have a Government as democratic as that now in office, though we may have one more democratic. Still, we must bear in mind that, in times of crises, men possessing supreme temporal power are prepared to go to any length, and to strain any law. in order to put down by force what they believe to be inimical either to the welfare of the country or their own rule. I do not pretend to try to bring about the millennium, when all our swords will be converted into ploughshares, pruning hooks, or other crude agricultural implements, but I do say that those who take up arms very much against tfieir will, and who, in their hearts, are opposed to all forms of militarism, and consent to compulsory service only because of what they deem to be the absolute necessity of defending this country against foreign invasion, should not be swerved from the duty on which practically all people are agreed into the performance of quite another duty, in order, it maybe, to accomplish the designs of some ambitious authority over which they have little or no control. The adoption of my motion would never deprive Australia ofthe power to suppress any revolt or insurrection so long as the Constitution and laws of the country are worth preserving. When a country has sunk into such a condition of decadence that the people havelostall confidence in its forms of governmentand its rulers, when insurrections spring up at all manner of times and places, the probability is that it would be a good thing if the Governmentof such a country were wiped out of existence.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is done through the ballot-box.

Senator RAE - I am sure thatSenator W. Russell will not contend that I have been any more backward than himself in advocating reforms through the ballot-box. I say that it is only when a country has sunk tosuch a low condition that it is not possible by political means to secure industrial peace and contentment that the people will revolt against all governmental agencies. In such circumstances, we should find people fighting amongst themselves, no matter how beautiful the paper Constitution under which they lived. So long as we have a form of government in accordance with the will of the vast majority of the people, we need have no fear of any serious insurrection, or any resort to violent revolutionary methods such as those at present adopted in China. It is only when a democratic government absolutely fails, becomes a mere shadow, and ceases to be effective, that the people in any large numbers resort to violence and revolutionary methods.

Senator Millen - Did democratic government fail in the United States prior to the Civil War ?

Senator RAE - I say that it did absolutely. Senator Millen must know,as well as I do, that under a constitutional provision similar to ours, it was equal representation of the States, in one House of the Legislature, making it practically impossible for the democratic majority in the other House to legislate in accordance with the will of the people, that led to the trouble. That was the cause which ultimately produced results that brought about the Civil War.

Senator Lynch - That was not the real cause of the war.

Senator RAE - There were many other factors, which assisted to bring it about.

Senator Lynch - Slavery.

Senator RAE - If the honorable senator had read the history of America he would know that slavery would have been abolished, perhaps by peaceful and gradual methods, many years before the Civil War took place, if the Senate, bolstered up by the State Rights theory, had not prevented that being done in accordance with the desire of the democratic majority in the House of Representatives. No paper Constitution can prevent a civil war when the people have lost faith in the forms of government of a country. In the case of minor revolts, or small insurrections, on the part of ill-advised sections of the community, 1 have no hesitation in saying we should be able to get volunteers to suppress them in any part of the Commonwealth if they believed those taking part in them to be in the wrong. What does the allusion to the United States prove? It proves that while a very large and important section of the people refused to obey the will of the majority, it did not require a compulsorily enrolled military defence force to quell the revolt. Great and serious as it was, the Civil War in America was conducted by voluntarily enrolled soldiers. So that the reference to that war tells in favour rather than against my proposal.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Compulsory military service is part of the Labour platform.

Senator RAE - The honorable senator's interjection has no bearing upon my remarks. I am a strong advocate of compulsory military service, and I very much regret that the place in which I live puts members of my family beyond the reach of training, because an inefficient and incomplete system does not permit the training of youths unless they are within a few miles of a railway. I am sorry, thatour system is not more complete and effective than it is. While I am a strong advocate of compulsory military service, I believe it cannot be justified for any other purpose than that of operations against outside aggression. I object that a force raised for one purpose should be compulsorily used for another. No member of the Senate, and no member of any Government in Australia, would ever dare to propose compulsory military service for any other purpose than the defence of the country against possible outside aggression. That being so, what right has any Government, more especially one which claims' to be democratic, to use all its power and machinery to set up a citizen defence force, avowedly for one purpose, and then presume to use it for a purpose that is not only opposed to the spirit of the age, but opposed to the objects of the people of Australia when they consented to the compulsory military system? To repeat, to some extent, what I have said in regard to industrial upheavals, there will always be plenty of persons who are compulsorily enrolled willing to give their services whenever they may be required to suppress any rising or insurrection. All that my motion asks is that no man shall be compelled, by the terms of that service, to use his arms against a fellow-Australian. A man who cannot see the very wide difference between the service which should be exacted from a person who is compelled to enter the Military Forces whether he likes it or not, and the service which may fairly be asked of one who voluntarily becomes a paid soldier, probably does not wish to see it. In all seriousness, I urge the adoption of my proposal in the interests of the compulsory system. It will cut the ground from under the feet of those who base their objections to compulsory service on the argument that it is only building up a strong military force, which may ultimately result in the arms of that force being turned against the people who have created it and paid for it. If honorable senators wish to reconcile this system with the views and principles of the average Australian, they must first convince him that it is not raised for one purpose ostensibly to be used for another purpose actually, but that it is raised for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is the defence of Australia against outside aggression ; that if any means are required to protect any portion of Australia from domestic violence other measures will be brought into use to fulfil that end, and that no compulsorily-enrolled and compulsorilytrained citizen shall be compelled to bear arms against a fellow-Australian. If this motion is not carried now, I have no doubt that the publicity which will be given to the principles I have endeavoured, in my humble and feeble way, to give utterance to will be widely taken up and dealt with by abler men, and that I shall see the triumph of the proposal which I have the honour to submit.

Suggest corrections