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Thursday, 7 December 1911

Senator PEARCE - Our Fleet, being the predominant Fleet, it follows that our officerwillbe the senior officer.

SenatorMillen. - Not necessarily.

SenatorPEARCE. - If a single ship comeshere it will not be under the command of an Admiral, whereas, it is almost certain that. a fleet of the strength of our unit will have an Admiral for its commanding officer.

Senator Millen - The senior officer, whoever he may happen to be, will take command ?

Senator PEARCE - Yes. As our Fleet will be stationary it will happen in nearly every case that our officer will be the senior officer on the station.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Is that in time of peace?

Senator PEARCE - In time of peace or war. It may be proposed to have a combined training of all the British ships in Pacific waters. The Canadian, the China, and Australian shipsmight rendezvous at some point in the Pacific for combined, training; and. whichever Admiral hap pened to beseniorinrank, irrespective of the Fleet to which 'he belonged 'would take command of the whole for the par-: poses of training. Before that can be done, however,. the Government, by. its Executiveact, and by a proclamation',' must first have placed and ordered the Australian shipsto go under the command of that officer.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) -Is it not possible that if a British officer took command he' might get 'conflicting instructions from Australia and the Old- Country ?

Senator PEARCE - No; if a British ship was merely visiting Australia, and wasnot placed by the British Government at our disposal, or under our orders, she would simply have to pay the usual courtesies which a British ship now has to pay to the Admiral on the station. If a British shipnot belonging to the Fleet on the Australian Station enters Sydney Harbor, the Admiral in charge of the squadron will nodoubt make a courtesy call upon the Commander of the ship, but will not take any further cognisance of its presence. Exactly the same course would be followed if a . ship belonging to the British Fleetcame to Australia when our Fleet was here. But if the British Government sent a ship here, and at the same time placed it under our orders, it would be while here under our control. If a British Fleet came herewith an officer in charge senior in rank tothe officer in charge of our Fleet, he would have no power to take command of our ships until the Commonwealth Government placed them under his control.So that local autonomy is provided for in every contingency. We are proposing a similar provision withregard to the estab-. lishment of courts martial which may benecessary under the circumstances to which I have been referring. We might, for instance, send one of our ships to New Zealand to co-operate there with vessels of the China Squadron, and place itunder the orders of the British Naval Commander. At present, as the law stands, if one of our senior officers on board that vessel -committed a crime for which he would render himself liable to court martial, no court martial could be constituted to try him, because there would not be sufficient officers on the ship to constitute a Court. Under this. Billit is proposed that in such circumstancesofficers of the; British ships may be called -upon to constitute the court martial. Similarly, if aBritish officer on a ship in our waters committed an offence there would not be sufficient officers of the necessary rank on the vessel to constitute a court martial by which he could be tried, and under the provision now being made our officers of sufficient rank could sit on the court martial. It has to be remembered that a court martial to in,vestigate an offence by an officer must be constituted of officers senior in rank to the officer charged with the offence.

Senator Rae - What would happen if the senior officer committed an offence.

Senator PEARCE - That would be a question for the Government. This matter is dealt with in clause 11 of the Naval Agreement, which reads as follows -

When a court martial has to be ordered by a Dominion and a sufficient number of officers are riot available in the Dominion service at the time, the British Admiralty, if requested, will m.-ike the necessary arrangements to enable a Court to be formed. Provision will be made by order of His Majesty in Council and by the Dominion Government respectively to define 4he conditions under which officers of the different services are to sit on joint courts martial.

When we were dealing with this question the Admiralty submitted to Mr. Fisher and myself, as the Australian delegates in connexion with this matter, a Bill which it was proposed to introduce in the House of Commons, in which, in order to give effect to this proposal, there is conferred upon the Governor-General in Council in Australia the powers of the King and the Admiralty. That .Bill has been introduced in the House of Commons, as we have seen from the cable I have quoted. If this Bill be carried, and if the Imperial measure is also carried, we shall be placed in exactly the same relation to the British Admiralty as they will be to us. I desire here to pay a tribute to Senator Symon, who, I am sorry, is not present in the Chamber at this moment. When ,the Imperial Bill, to which I have referred, was submitted to us in London, we found that it was of a rather technical character. I knew that Senator Symon had always Senator Symon was one of the men who stood by us in our desire for the creation of an Australian Navy. He fortunately happened to be in London when we were attending the Imperial Conference, and, with Mr. Fisher's consent, ;] consulted him as to the legal form of the' Bill submitted t.o us.' He was able to ^suggest .one' or two amendments . which '.he considered would more fully safeguard our position. We were very thankful to him for placing his legal services at our disposal, and enabling us to have the benefit of his advice. I take this opportunity of publicly thanking the honorable senator for 'the advice he gave at the time. We felt that we could accept it' with confidence, knowing that he had always been a strong advocate of the creation of an Australian Navy. I have now dealt with: the whole of the matters contained in this Bill, and I trust the Senate will pass it without delay. It seems to me that the issues are clear-cut, and there is no doubt that the provisions of the Bill will give effect to the principles of the Naval Agreement. On our return from England, the agreement was at once submitted to the Law officers of the Commonwealth, and they were asked to prepare a Bill which would bring our Naval- Defence Act into conformity with the terms of that agreement. This Bill is the result of their consideration ; and I now ask the Senate to give the Government the necessary legislative power fo act under our law in conformity with the agreement entered into by the Australian representatives at the Imperial Conference in the belief that they were expressing the will of the people of Australia.

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