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Wednesday, 13 December 1911

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - Replying to Senator Keating's question first, I have to say that it must be obvious that, at this stage of public business, the Government have not had time to deal with such an important question as the establishment of a superannuation scheme. This is one of the questions that is being reserved for calm consideration during the recess. We expect to go into it thoroughly. It is a very large question, involving considerable financial obligations. It will be carefully considered, and any decision that is arrived at will be made known on the reassembling of Parliament. Dealing with the question raised by Senator McDougall, as to officers who are brought to Australia from England from time to time, the present position is that we are enabled to arrange exchanges with the War Office. We send Australian officers to England for training and instruction. They remain there for a year, or possibly two years. For each officer sent we get from the War Office an officer in exchange, who takes up the duties in Australia of the officer whom we send to England. Our officer meanwhile takes up the exchange officer's duties in Great Britain. Obviously, it would not do to fill up the position of the officer whom we send to England by- promoting the next man below him. Otherwise we should do an injustice to the officer who was abroad. We send an officer Home for the purpose of enabling him to make himself more fitted to render valuable service to the Commonwealth, and he would be penalized if his position were filled up in his absence. By arranging an exchange his position is kept open for him when he comes back to Australia. The English officer then returns to Great Britain and takes up his old duties. But a more serious position has arisen from the fact that we have to send and are sending officers to England for a longer term than we can obtain exchange officers for. They go to the Staff College, where the term is two years, after which they have one year's regimental training. It is manifest that an officer whom we send to the Staff College is not at the disposal of the War Office. Consequently the War Office will not send us exchange officers for them. We have at present in England undergoing instruction no fewer than eight officers for whom we have no exchange officers. Honorable senators know that the number of permanent officers under the Commonwealth is extremely limited. We are endeavouring at present to arrange - as is done by Canada and New Zealand - that if we cannot have exchange officers to take the place of those whom we send to the Staff College, we shall have the loan of officers from England to fill their places temporarily. Such an arrangement will not interfere in any way with the promotion of our own officers. Australian officers, it must be remembered, are repeatedly promoted in their absence if they pass the necessary examinations. Our officers are examined on the same papers as are used for examining officers in the British Army. The consequence of that arrangement is that we have recently had officers examined in Canada, and they have been promoted while they were there. Therefore an officer is in no way hindered in has promotion by being sent abroad for instruction. As regards officers doing work in offices, I would remind Senator McDougall that, in time of peace, there is a large amount of work to be done that can only be done by military officers in offices. There is work that no clerk could be expected to do. Those who do it must have military training. There are positions in connexion with the Military Board and with the Central Administrations of the States that must be done by military officers. If an officer who is sent to Australia from England is better fitted for that class of work than for instructional work, he is employed accordingly. With every officer who comes to Australia from England we have a confidential report as to the work for which he is best fitted, and we endeavour to give him that kind of work. As I have said, and desire to repeat, this system of exchange does not in any way interfere with the chances of promotion of our junior officers, which at present are, I think, most satisfactory. If Senator McDougall will look up the lists for the last twelve months he will find that officers have been promoted at a far more rapid rate in Australia than in any other part of the Empire. Obviously, as our service is expanding so rapidly, a young officer is afforded excellent opportunities. The road to promotion during the last two or three years has been far more easy than it used to be. I do not think there can be any complaint on that score. Officers who choose to fit themselves for better positions, especially engineer officers, have an excellent chance. There are positions in our service worth £500 a year that are going begging, simply because we have not officers properly trained to fill them. There is a scarcity of engineer officers in the service. We cannot get suitable men for the positions we have to fill. We are taking on a number of subalterns, but a few years must elapse before they will have the necessary training to qualify them for filling the higher positions which are available.

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