7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 7.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence if he will have an inquiry made into the possibility of equipping the military hospitals with’ proper spinal beds, so that spinal cases may be removed easily into the open air?
– I shall do that.
The following papers were presented : -
Irish Republican Brotherhood Internees-
Report on cases, by Mr. Justice Harvey.
Ordered to be printed.
Pastoralists - Statement showing number who have died during the last two years, Net Value’ of their Estates, and Commonwealth Duty payable thereon.
– Some time ago, the Acting Prime Minister promised to confer with the Minister for Defence regarding the possibility of remitting the fines that had been imposed on deceased soldiers. .. I wish to know if the ‘interview took place, and, if so, what was the result of it.
– I have a recollection -of the promise and of a conference with the Minister for Defence, who, subsequently! speaking from memory, submitted the report of the Department on the subject; but I cannot from memory state the contents of that report.
– The money is now being paid by the Department.
– I have some cases in which it is not being paid.
– I shall look into the> matter, and, if possible, inform the honorable member to-morrow of the result of my inquiry.
– Has the Acting Prime
Minister come to finality regarding the wool top industry at Botany? If not, when are we likely to have the matter settled 1
– -There has just been finished a discussion of the subject which extended from about 3.30 this afternoon to about 7 o’clock, as the result of which I feel almost sorry that there was ever a sheep bred in this country.
– Then Mr. F. W. Hughes must be a tough proposition.
– It is not only he; I’ had three members of the Wool Committee, all keen-brained experts, on the job; and three representatives of the Colonial Combing Company. For nearly four hours’ I was the candlestick of this seesaw, and, as a result, I am pretty tired of the subject. But I have succeeded at last in effecting a final arrangement. We rose too late to put the agreement into form; but the heads of it will be drawn up to-morrow, and signed by the parties interested.
– I wish to know from the Minister for Home and Territories if a vessel named the Sir ‘John
Forrest has been obtained for work in the Northern Territory, and, if so, where that vessel is now, and what the Government intend to do with it?
– The vessel referred to was ordered, about two years ago, and is now on its’ way from Brisbane to. the Territory.
– As last year the Administrator of the Northern Territory was in Melbourne for- seven months, or thereabouts, drawing extra allowances, and is here again now, I ask the Minister whether it is his intention that the Northern Territory shall be administered from Melbourne,, and at a higher cost than we should have to pay if it were administered from Darwin?
– The fact that the Administrator was here last year does not affect his present visit, which has not lasted more than about ten days. He was not responsible for the circumstances which kept him here last year. On this, as on other occasions, he undertook a purely business trip, travelling through Hatches Creek to look into some important matters, and on to Queensland because of some difficulty with regard to the tick pest. Other matters made it expedient for him to go on to Brisbane. His travelling allowance is not greater than that of the more highly paid public servants, being only £1 a- day in the Territory, and 30s. a day outside of it.
– The Acting Prime Minister promised to make inquiry in connexion with an advertisement which appeared asking for Victorian coal miners to go to the Richmond Main Mine in New South “Wales. The matter was raised by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) last week, and I have received a telegram concerning it. Has the honorable gentleman any further information? Is the inquiry proceeding, and when does he expect to receive a report?
Mr.WATT. - In accordance with my promise to the honorable member for Hunter, I next day summoned certain parties who were supposed to know about the matter, and I subsequently called for a report in writing from them. I am informed by the Secretary of the Depart ment that the report arrived to-day, but I have not seen it, and cannot state its contents.
– I hope that the honorable member will make the fullest inquiry.
Mr.WATT.- I am trying to do so. I keep my promises.
– Some time ago the Minister for Trade and Customs imposed an embargo on the importation of American apples during the present year. Has he later information which may induce him to reconsider the matter ?
– About two months ago I called for a return of the quantity of apples in cool store in Australia, and found that about 1,600,000. were so held by various merchants and fruit-growers. As I considered that quantity of apples sufficient to meet the consumption of the Commonwealth during the year, I decided that it would be unwise to permit the importation of American apples, especially as Australia has not ixported to any country one case of apples during the year. I have called for another return, so that I may know what the consumption of apples has been,- and how many cases there are now in stock, with a view to reconsidering the whole matter.
– I have received from the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of’ urgent public importance, namely, ‘ The action of the military authorities in giving to the daily press the names and sentences imposed on privates and noncommissioned officers of the Australian Imperial Force for desertion. Also to dicuss the severity of sentences imposed by the military officials in France and England.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
. - I gave notice of this motion with some diffidence, which, however, has been removed, as the result of a conversation with the
Acting Prime Minister during the past few minutes. I do not desire by any statement that I may make to hinder recruiting; I wish to be very careful not to do that. At the same time I do not wish injustice to be done to our soldiers in France and England, nor that such injustice shall be continued because. I am keeping quiet. We have* decided, the Prime Minister and I, that I shall censor my speech, and that he shall censor his. This gives me the opportunity that I desire to put certain statements before the House.
I wish,’ first, to draw the attention of honorable members to the action of the military authorities in publishing in the press of Australia every sentence that is imposed upon our soldiers in France and England. No good purpose is served by this practice. On the contrary, grave injury’ and injustice is done to the soldiers’ loved ones in Australia. I feel strongly upon this question, because of my own experience while in France. Whilst I was, there cases came under my notice in which some of the bravest lads in our Army were sent to military compounds for having committed little, if any, offence against the military regulations. I have before me the names and battalions of several lads whose cases I shall mention; but I do not propose to give the names. In the first place, let me tell of a young private who was in the Pozieres stunt. After that stunt his battalion came back for a rest and went into billets. He went into a billet and was billeted by himself. On the. following morning the battalion paraded, but he was too ill to attend the parade. At that parade his battalion received orders to march further back. He was not aware of this, but on the following day this young soldier, whose battalion belonged to our 1st Division, joined a battalion of the 2nd Division. He reported himself to the officer-in-charge of that battalion, and remained with it for eighteen days. -At the end of that time his own battalion was located, and he returned to it. I can speak feelingly upon this phase of the question since I was lost in Flanders for several days. During the whole of that time I was carrying my swag, and was quite unable to locate my unit. I know how difficult it is, therefore, for a soldier when, he misses his battalion to catch up to it again. This young soldier, who had been, at Gallipoli, and had not one crime in his pay-book - this young man, who had been in every stunt up to that of Pozieres - reached his battalion alter eighteen days, and was promptly court martialled. The adjutant of the battalion with which he had served during that eighteen days corroborated his statement, and gave the actual dates, showing that he had not missed one day, but the court martial sentenced him to fifteen years in a military compound. For some reason for which he does not know, he was not called upon toserve a day of his fifteen years! sentence, but was sent to England,, and. is now out here. He lost, however, about £40 as the result of the incident. In another case, a young soldier, after coming ‘out of the Fleurbaix stunt, got drunk. That is by no means an uncommon occurrence. The nerves of many of these young men are % shattered after a stunt, and they are not nearly as good as when they went into it. This young soldier, for getting drunk,” was sentenced to five years in a military compound. He served fifty-seven days in cells, during which time he had to wear leg irons, and after doing seven months he was released. Yet another Melbourne boy for striking a corporal was sentenced to twelve months in a compound. His food - and this is the ordinary food served out in the military compounds - consisted of $ lb. of bread and a pint of porridge for breakfast ; 6 ozs. of bully beef and 8 ozs. of bread for lunch; a pint of stew, 8 ozs. of bread, and 2 ozs., of cheese for dinner. The men in the compounds have to work very hard, and this lad for refusing to turn to until he got clean clothes was again tried, received thirtyseven days, and was -transferred to . Rouen *‘No. 2 compound. In .another case a private, for being drunk, was sentenced to twelve months in a military compound, and he declares that whilst there he was beaten- by the Tommy staff-sergeants. -Here is another case of a soldier who T»as sentenced to five days for failing to wash- an officer’s mustardpot. It is a trivial case, but it is these trivial matters that irritate the soldiers.
I mention these cases in the hope that the Commonwealth Government will take action. We should have our own Australian compounds in France. Our lads ought not to be sent to compounds controlled by other than Australian officers and non-commissioned officers. One Australian understands another, and- our men are more likely to get better treatment at the hands of their brother Australians than if they are left to others who are not actually in the fighting line. . There is the best of feeling between the Australians and those of our Allies who are actually fighting, but, as I have said, there is another section that is not too friendly towards the Australians. I am ‘anxious that our boys shall be placed in our own compounds, and that the Government will take action in regard to these heavy sentences of ten years and fifteen years’ imprisonment which are published from .time to time in the daily newspapers. Many of the officers at the Front have been on service for a long time, and have done gallant work. Their nerves, however, are shattered, and they are not in a fit state to try our men - not fit to weigh the evidence, to carefully judge it, and to mete out the punishment that will fit the crime. It is a shame that lads who have been through Gallipoli, and in stunt after stunt in France, should be. sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment for being away for a few days without leave. A mother saw me to-day about the case of her young soldier son, who had twenty-three days “ A.W.L.” - absent without leave. Those who have been at the Front, and have had leave, can well understand the feelings of the men when, after month after month in action they get leave. It is not much wonder that they sometimes overstay their leave ; the temptation is very great. If they overstay it to any extent they are sentenced to twelve months in a military compound, and, what is worse, their “names are published in the newspapers here as those of lads who have practically deserted. I can well imagine the feelings of the mothers and fathers, the sweethearts and relatives, of these boys when they read in the newspapers of the sen- tences that have been meted out to them. Another private who was away without’ leave for two months was sentenced to twelve years in a compound.
I have been associated with the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) for a long time, and although I have always been opposed to him in politics, I recognise that he is generally fair. I ask him does lie .think it reasonable that one form of punishment should be meted out to privates and non-commissioned officers, and quite another form of punishment to officers? An officer may commit almost any crime, and yet not be sent to a compound. If he is found guilty of an offence, he is returned to Australia. He comes back on a transport as a first-class passenger, and when he arrives here he is simply told that his services are no longer required. A non-commissioned officer or private who has been guilty of the same offence receives a sentence of anything from one year to fifteen years in a military compound, and his sentence is published to the world at large.
– What is more, his dependants are left to starve.
– That is another phase of the question with which- 1 shall deal on another occasion. This differential treatment is most unfair.
– Does the honorable member say that if an officer is absent without leave, just as a private may be, his offence is treated differently?
– -If he is absent without leave or breaks a military law he is cashiered.
– He either gets a severe reprimand-
– Or promotion.
– He either receives a reprimand, a severe reprimand, or is dismissed. The heaviest sentence of all is to be cashiered the service.
– But no other punishment is inflicted upon an officer. He does not return to Australia under the same conditions as a private, who, after going through the Gallipoli campaign and stunt after stunt in France, is being sent home invalided. He has not to submit to the treatment which such privates have to submit to on a transport, and in some cases the treatment of the privates is not too good. It is aggravating to a private who is returning home invalided to see on the deck, which he dare not stand upon, Captain or Lieutenant So-and-so, who has been cashiered because he has failed in his duty, but who is treated as a first-class passenger. There is not a word in the press as to the officer’s offence and punishment. He comes back here with all the glory of a man who has done gallant service. But Private Johnny Brown, who takes a little, too much beer, or is absent without leave for twenty-three days, is sentenced to a term in a military compound, and his sentence is published to the world at large.
We might well take a step in advance of the British Army, and I urge the Government to make representations to the Imperial authorities in regard to courts martial. In the French Army there is a private on every court martial constituted to try a private. The private on a court martial is charged with the duty of watching the interests of the privates brought before it, and he sees that they receive justice. The honorable member for New England (Lt.-Colonel Abbott) has not had the experience I have had as a private, but he knows that when a lad is brought before a court martial he has to say “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir”; that he has to stand to attention, that in most cases he cannot put his case very well, and that he has no one to plead for him. If we had privates on such courts martial, I am satisfied that severe sentences would not be so frequently imposed. ‘ I hope the Acting Prime Minister will see if it is not possible to have a private sitting as a member of any court martial, which is dealing with a private.
I do not wish to deal at length with this question. The Acting Prime Minister tells me that he has some fairly strong statements from the British Government. I certainly hope that the British Government will never have their own way so far as our Army is concerned. The British Government can give British Army officers the right to shoot men for disobeying an order. God forbid that such a power should be given any of our officers. While in England, I visited the House of Commons, and heard a member . of the Conservative party plead for the abolition of such a power. He said, “I can give you, Mr. Speaker, the case of Private So-and-so, whose only decorations are five wounded stripes. As an officer who. has shed his blood for his country, I know that a man is at his best the first time he goes over the parapet. He is not as good on the second occasion, and he is worse still on the third. This lad, with the five wounded stripes, on. the sixth occasion of his going over the parapet, - fell by the wayside^- his nerves had gone, and his punishment was the death penalty, the man being shot as a coward and a deserter.” I would never give anygreater’ power to the officers than they have to-day, and we ought to insist that these sentences be reviewed by the civil authorities. We have already given absolutely too much power, and these officers are in absolutely full control. However well they mean, we have to remember that the officer is in the same condition as the private - he has been through hell intensified, and his nerves are gone; and he is not in a condition to deal with cases- of the kind. Week after week we see the lists of the heavy sentences passed on our boys, who are doing everything they cans for their country, and who, it must be remembered, are placed in worse circumstances in France than are the armies of any of the other Allies. In France, sostrong is the demand by the French women and people that their soldiers shall be given leave, the French Government have had to concede the right of every man to go to his home once every three months. Our own boys are 13,000 miles away from all they love, and they have been there for a year to eighteen months without a day’s leave; and yet, because some of them overstay their leave, they are visited with these heavy punishments. We ought to remember that the very spirit that causes them to overstay their leave is the spirit that makes them the fine fighting soldiers they are. I feel very strongly on the matter - I feel for the loved ones here when they take up the newspapers and see the punishments that have been inflicted. When I remember how trivial are some of the crimes, I cannot but think what must bet the feelings of some of their friends, who are proud of the fact that their boys arefighting for their country and the liberties we now enjoy. I trust that the Prime Minister will make representations to the military authorities here with a view to> at least seeing that the names and sen’tences are not published.
– When the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) intimated to me yesterday that he proposed to move the adjournment of the House on this question, he acceded to the wish I expressed to postpone thematter until to-day in order to enable the Budget to be placed before honorablemembers. That has enabled me to-day to> confer, very briefly. I admit, with the Defence Department, and to get into documentary form some arguments surrounding the cases to which he has referred. There was a difficulty as to how far what he would say, or what I would be likely to say, would be injurious to the cause of the Commonwealth if published. There were two ways of getting over that difficulty. One was by an arrangement with the speakers, principally the honorable member and myself, to censor our speeches in Hansard, and the other was by requiring strangers to withdraw at the will of the Speaker and of honorable members. However, after consultation with the honorable member, we thought the former course was perhaps the better. This leaves me somewhat freer to speak on the matter, more particularly on the graver phases to which he has referred.
– Is this all “to be suppressed ?
– I am not talking of suppression, but of a voluntary censorship, which the honorable member’s legal training will distinguish from suppression.
– You should let the public know the shameful business.
– The honorable member does not know anything about the question at all, whereas the honorable member for Ballarat does, while I, from another point of view, know the other side, and desire to point out, for what they are worth, the causes of some of the things complained of.
The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) has really separated his remarks into five parts. He complains, first of all, about the treatment of the desertion cases, and the publication of the names in the daily papers. Secondly, he deals with the heavy sentences for small offences; his third point is that one punishment is given to officers and another to the rank and file; his fourth, that courts martial should be constituted differently, and, where privates are tried, privates with others should sit in judgment; while his fifth suggestion is that all sentences imposed by courts martial should be reviewed by the civil authorities. These points I shall deal with in their order. The first is that of the desertion cases. The documents in the possession of the Defence Department justify the preparation of the following memorandum, which I shall read from beginning to end: -
There have been in the Australian Imperial Force a large number of cases of desertion, both from the firing line and from units warned for duty in the firing line.
Strong representations were made in the matter by Sir Douglas Haig, the Army Council, _General Birdwood, and the Army Commanders.
By section 98 of the Defence Act the penalty of death cannot be awarded for desertion on active service, or even for desertion in the face of the enemy. To render a member of the Australian Imperial Force liable to the death penalty, he must actually desert, to the enemy. The English, Canadian, South African, and New Zealand troops all come under the Army Act in this respect, and the offence of desertion while on active service is punishable by death.
The death sentence in these ‘ cases is passed with . the object of showing the serious nature of the offence, and of acting as a deterrent to others who contemplate the commission of the same offence. An army is a military machine, and, to insure efficiency, all parts of the machine must comply witlf the requirements of discipline.
The British authorities urged that the Defence Act should “ be “amended to allow the death penalty to be inflicted in these cares. The power would only have been used sparingly, where the offence was very deliberate, and an example urgently required.
Careful consideration was given to the matter by Cabinet; but it was decided not to amend the Defence Act.
-Is that the Australian Cabinet or the English Cabinet ? .
– It is the Australian Cabinet.
– Good luck to them !
– To proceed-
It ‘was then suggested that, assome action was urgently necessary, the mimes of men convicted of this offence should be published in the press throughout Australia, and approval was given to the adoption of this suggestion.’ It was absolutely necessary that some steps should be taken to provide a deterrent, and to insure that the mass of the Australian troops should” not be included in the general condemnation caused by the action of a few individuals. The opprobrium attaching to the act of deserting one’s comrades must rest on the individual responsible, and not on the Australian Imperial Force as a whole. It is only right and just that the man whose actions bring the name of the Australian troops into dishonour and disrepute should himself bear the shame, and that his action should not be allowed to tarnish the collective reputation of the Australian Imperial Force.
Desertion . on active service is a shameful and dishonorable crime, and the man who commits it is false to his country, false to his comrades, and false to his oath.
The publication of the names of these men has been decided upon, with a view to ascertaining whether this will act aa a deterrent; and in view of the grave nature of the offence, it is considered that the men concerned are leniently dealt with. -
– I wish you to clearly understand that no Australian ever deserts in the line. It is because the Australian soldiers get so little leave that when they . go to London they overstay their leave.
– I should be glad if the honorable member would not ask me to contradict that statement at the present time. I shall discuss it with him at a suitable time -
With regard to” the sentences pnssed, these arenot severe, in view of the above facts. A term of imprisonment or penal servitude -is a light punishment, in view of the gravity and the prevalence of the offence.
Members of the Australian Imperial Force convicted before court martial overseas of desertion, or other offences, generally serve their sentences overseas, and the papers relating to their cases dS not come to Australia, only the soldier is sent back for discharge. In some cases soldiers are sent back to serve their sentences in Australia, and in these cases their papers and proceedings of court martial are sent back with them.
As the result of consideration of representations made to the Minister for Defence, the Minister some time ago appointed a committee to review the sentences of the men so returned. This committee consists of a Police Magistrate, a returned officer of the Australian Imperial Force, and a representative of the Adjutant-General.
In cases of soldiers returned to serve long sentences for . more serious crimes, the papers in such cases are referred to a Judge of the Supreme Court for his opinion. The committee or the Judge, as the case, may be, are invited to make recommendations as to the remission of sentences, or portion thereof, and such recommendations are at once brought before the Governor-General for the necessary action.
The honorable’ member will see that part of the problem to which he has referred has already been dealt with by the Government up to a certain point. The pressure brought by the British Army authorities to have our’ soldiers placed upon the same terms as other soldiers of the Empire in regard to the death penalty we have resisted and refused. We have been told by those who are best able to know and most responsible as military thinkers, that desertions, instead of being deterred by the present leniency, have probably been increased. The leaders of our soldiers in the field have appealed to us to give them some form of deterrent, and we have given as an experiment what appears to be the mildest possible form of deterrent.
– The trouble is, that it affects the fathers and mothers of the soldiers.
– I admit that, but similarly, in ordinary civil life, if a man commits a crime, the shame of the punishment falls on his dear ones, too.
Extension of time granted.
– But the man who is punished in the civil Court has not served his country in the field.
– When we inflict punishment on a man for a military or civil offence it necessarily extends to those who are nearest and dearest to him. That is an accidental and possibly inevitable feature of punishment. The Government have given a certain amount of attention to these matters, and are trying the mildest form of deterrent that has been recommended.
I have no information, and I do’ not think I am able to get any at this stage, as to whether the punishment fits the crime in the cases of the smaller offences to which the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) has referred. I shall ask the Minister for Defence to inquire into the matter and ascertain what information is available in the Department or at authoritative sources overseas. The honorable member has suggested, also, that the mere publication of a sentence imposed upon an officer and, his dismissal from the army is not treatment equivalent to that meted out to the rank and file. I admit that. I do not think that the cashiering of an officer, in either volunteer or regular regiments, is the same kind of punishment as the dismissal and imprisonment of a private. I do not know the origin of the army tradition which makessuch punishment sufficient in the case of an offending officer, but possibly the honorable member for New England (Lt.-Colonel Abbott) may enlighten the House’ as to the reason for that view; We in Australia are simply following the ordinary and invariable practice of the British Army in that respect. It seems to me that the French system of allowing one private to sit on a court martial which is trying another private is a very proper one. The jury system of this country - and, after all, a court martial is an improvised jury for a certain purpose - means that a man shall be tried by his peers, and I shall recommend the Minister to consider that system for adoption in connexion with courts martial. Wherever possible, we are allowing a review by the civil authority of sentences imposed by courts martial, and as I propose to strike out of Hansard such of my remarks as I think will injure recruiting or reflect unduly on our Expeditionary Forces, I ask other honorable members who speak to this question to submit their speeches to the same treatment.
.- The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) is to be commended for having brought this matter before the House, and for having ‘dealt with it in such a temperate way. The sentences that have been imposed on privates in the Expeditionary Forces are a scandal. The Acting Prime Minister has said, and I agree with him, that he cannot see why an officer can fairly be treated differently from a private. In my opinion, instead of the punishment of an officer being lighter, it should be greater, because he is a man of greater experience and responsibility, and he has everything in his favour.
– Do you not think that it is sufficient for an officer to be cashiered ? When that happens he is settled for ever, socially.
– If a private gets a sentence of twelve years’ imprisonment he is nearly settled for ever, because when he comes out of prison he finds that his offence is known, and the stigma upon, his character remains. In the case of the officer, public obloquy of the kind is escaped. I hope that the Acting Prime Minister will deal with this matter, and that all the cases of. men who have been returned to Australia for punishment will be referred to the Committee which he has mentioned. Men who had been sentenced for military offences were sent back from Egypt, and ‘as there was, apparently, no proper place for their detention, the Victorians were sent to Pentridge. The Government appointed a Committee to review all sentences, and I believe that if a confidential report were presented it would disclose that, in practically every case, the Committee recommended a reduction of the sentence. There is one case of special hardship to which I wish to direct the attention of the Assistant Minister for Defence. This case has been brought under my notice, and I have sent particulars’ of it to Victoria Barracks. A young fellow was sentenced to imprisonment for two years. I do not know what his offence was, nor do his people. After the boy had served three or four months of the sentence his mother received word that he had been wounded in the firing line. She had received no notification that his sentence- had been reduced, or that her allotment money, which had been stopped from the date of the court martial, was to be continued. Surely, if a man is sentenced to a punishment, and his allotment money is stopped, the authorities have no right to send him back into the firing line.
– We have cabled for information about that case.
– I am glad to hear it. Honorable members on both sides are anxious that fair play should be dealt out to our men. We all have received letters from men stating that they have been for eighteen months or two years in France, and have been unable to get any leave in England. In one case that came under my notice, a young .fellow had been in France for two years without leave. Eventually he was granted leave, and visited friends in Scotland. On account of some breakdown in the train service he exceeded his leave by two days, and was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. After’ serving the sentence he returned to the firing line, and was wounded. The authorities subsequently admitted that his absence in excess of the period of leave was due to no fault of his own, and reinstated him. Nevertheless, the mother’s allotment pay for that month was stopped.
Whilst it is true that all punishment falls more severely on the relatives than on the offender, we have to remember that, in the case-of civil offences, the convicted man has had the advantage of a civil trial by his peers. There is a feeling’ amongst returned soldiers and amongst other sections of the community that every court martial trying an offence by a private should include at least one member of the prisoner’s rank. In our Public Service Act we have provided ‘that the tribunal shall include a representative of the class to which the offender belonged. I ask the Acting Prime Minister to endeavour to have the same principle applied to courts martial, so . that every private charged before a court martial may have a representative of his own rank to consider his case. A reform of that kind will do something to remove a great deal of irritation, and lessen the hard-‘ ship that is imposed upon the relatives of soldiers.
Lt.-Colonel ABBOTT . (New England) [8.28]. - We must not lose sight of the fact that the moment our troops leave-the confines of Australia, they come under the discipline of the English Army Act. That Act applies to the Imperial soldiers, and the troops of all the different Dominions and Colonies serving in . the present . war, and it is impossible for the authorities to differentiate between the several bodies of troops amongst the millions fighting on the side of the Allies. It is true, as has been stated by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) that there is one law for the officer and another law for the non-commissioned officer and private. The greatest punishm.ent that can be inflicted upon an officer is to be cashiered. He cannot lose his rank, and he cannot be sentenced to imprisonment, but, as the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page), interjected, the cashiering of an officer in the regular Army is about the most severe punishment that can be meted out to him. Of course, cashiering does not inflict the same degree of punishment on the militia or non-professional soldier as it does on the regular soldier. My principal complaint in this regard, however, is that an officer who has committed an offence - the self-infliction of wounds or desertion - and who has been dismissed from the service or returned to Australia because the Army has no further use for him, is allowed- to go scot-free without a recordof his service being made public. I have seen such offenders on transports fraternizing with other officers who did not know their record. On arrival in Australia they have all theeclat of having been on active service, they suffer no indignity, and are allowed to resume their place in civil life. Those men are in a totally different category from the unfortunate lad who has been sentenced because of desertion under duress, or for some other offence, and whose name and offence are published broadcast. I gather that one or two honorable members would like to know what actually happens at a court martial- in the -field. It was my unfortunate luck at times to preside at courts martial in the field, and at other times to be’ a member of courts martial dealing with Australian soldiers in England.. Although all offences committed by Australian soldiers are governed by the Army Act, the courts martial dealing with those offences are composed of Australians only, except in the case of an officer. An officer has to be tried by at least nine officers and the President, particularly in England, is generally a British officer. In the case of a non-commissioned officer below the rank of warrant officer, the court martial is usually composed of three officers, a colonel, who presides, and two other officers of lesser rank, but lieutenants with less than two years’ service are not eligible to sit on courts martial.
Field courts martial are not hedged round or circumscribed by red-tape as is the case in England, away from the scene of war-like operations. A field court martial is a rather quick method of dealing with matters, but, nevertheless, every man who is charged with an offence has the right to call upon a brother soldier, called the prisoner’s friend, to defend him. The right to call for the assistance of a prisoner’s friend is generally availed of, particularly if the soldier who is charged thinks that he has a good chance of getting out of the trouble. . He asks for the services of a prisoner’s friend, and names his man, . and that man is sent for. It is generally an Australian solicitor, though he may be a corporal or a private.
– Could he be an officer?
T- He may be, and very frequently is an officer. I have presided at. courts martial where a certain officer was defending a private. At each court martial evidence is taken on oath. If there is any question as to a man’s health, doctors’ certificates are admitted. The defence is entered upon exactly as in ordinary criminal cases in civil proceedings. The rules of evidence apply under the Army Act as they do in criminal proceedings in Australia. After the evidence is taken, the members of the court martial deliberate in private, and decide as to the guilt or otherwise of the prisoner, who is then, and only then, entitled to bring in evidence as to his character. Eegimental records are produced, and decorations, if the prisoner has any, are admitted and taken into account by the court martial, before, the sentence is passed. The sentence passed by the court martial is not final. It is subject to revision. It is a general rule on active service that if a man is absent for . twenty-one days from his duties in the front line after being warned for thatduty, the sentence is generally two to five years. I have known sentences to run up to ten years ; I do not remember a case in which the sentence imposed was fifteen years. There must be a majority verdict, and when the sentence is passed, all the papers are sent on to the prisoner’s brigadier. Before he confirms the sentence an inquiry is made from the prisoner’s battalion commander as to his history and military antecedents. In my experience everything in connexion with the case is thoroughly weighed, and the prisoner is given the benefit of any doubt.
– He gets a fair deal all round.
– He does, so far as I could see, speaking from my experience last winter. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) was in the Paeschendale stunt. He knows that the men were fed up ; they were suffering from overwork and overstrain. Immediately after that stunt, when the units were camped at Ypres and Hooge, we had several cases of court martial for desertion in the face of the enemy ‘and in the field. Within 4 or 5 miles of the front line, after Polygon Wood and Paschendale, we had the unpleasant task of dealing with several men who were absent from their battalions after . those units had been warned for the front line, and who did not take part in those fights. I quite admit with the honorable member for Ballarat that our young Australian soldiers, when suffering from overstrain and overwork, may commit a military offence that probably they would not commit in their ordinary frame of mind and in possession of their normal strength. One sees this particularly in the case of the younger members of the units.
– (Some of the cases I mentioned were those of lads of nineteen years of age.
.- I did not know that the honorable member was referring to youths. I have seen it more particularly in the case of lads of not mature years. The strain of holding a line is the most nerve-racking and exacting class of work a young man could undertake, and when a “ hop over “ has taken place, especially after a youth has been suffering great privations for perhaps two or three days, his temperament or his physical capacity is not the same as that of a man of twenty-five years or of thirty years of age. The strain affects him more than it does a man of more mature years.
– He should not be there.
– I quite agree with the honorable member that it is a great mistake to send boys of nineteen years of age to France to take part in these affairs. In cases Where I have been connected with courts martial these circumstances have been taken into account, and although there has been technical desertion and punishment has had to be inflicted, we were entitled to put in recommendations, which we did on several occasions, for mercy to be extended to the prisoners by the brigadier.
– Is it true that for a certainclass of offence the minimum punishment is five years?
.- That is quite correct. For desertion in the face of the enemy, for self-inflicted wounds, . and for cowardice in the face of the enemy the minimum sentence is, generally, five years’ imprisonment, but if there were circumstances in alleviation of a crime they could be added to the sentence as a sort of rider or recommendation to the brigadier. In every court martial with which I was connected, if we could see that there was a doubt, or that the soldier had been suffering from overstrain and overwork, and was run down generally, a recommendation to that effect invariably went on to the higher authority, and took effect.
– Does the honorable member know in how many instances sentences have been upset when they have been reviewed in thecases that have come out here ?
– I am not aware of it.
– In nearly every case the Committee has reduced the sentences imposed.
– I can quite understand a certain number of sentences being upset here in Australia, but of course officers who are dealing with these matters in the field have to approach them in a cold-blooded sort of way. When a battalion is ordered into the line the orders are received forty-eight hours beforehand, the battalion marches up to the front line by stages, and on the night preceding the talcing over of the line it is in billets 2 or 3 miles back. The lads know what is ahead of them. They know that next day, perhaps, there will be a “hop over.” The honorable member for Ballarat, who was at Paschendaele, knows what that means. Ninety-five per cent, of the men realize what may happen to them. They are taking on the greatest job that any mortal man has ever been asked to undertake - that is, to “hop over” in the face of the enemy, ,as our boys had to do, against the pill-boxes of the Hindenburg line at Paschendaele Officers who have had to deal with men who desert think that they are not dealing fairly with those who have borne the brunt of the fighting, and taken the risk of losing their lives, perhaps leaving bereaved widows and children to mourn their loss, if they allow a “ scrimshanker “ or “ cold-footer to evade his responsibilities at the last moment, and be found wanting when the battalion goes into the line. [Extension of time granted.’]
– What does the honorable member think of the case of the severe punishment of a man who has gone right through Gallipoli and through every stunt, and whose nerves have gone?
– The honorable member may be referring to a case of particular hardship. I cannot speak as to any of those particular cases. I can only speak of matters that have actually come under my notice on active service, but I can add this: that in most cases where severe sentences were inflicted the balance of sentence was remitted, and the soldiers reported to their battalions after serving not more than three months’ detention. The treatment in the cases mentioned by the honorable member for
Ballarat seems to have been harsher than that which was meted out in the instances that have come under my notice on active service, but perhaps there were circumstances connected with them that had not been brought to light.
– Is it not very severe on the relatives when a man is sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, and returns to the firing line after three months, and not a word is heard of it in Australia? It is cruel.
– There is no doubt it is. It may be a matter of policy on the part of the Government to give publicity to those cases in- order that it may act as a deterrent; but no matter how long the war lasts there will be a certain number of Australian soldiers - and good men, too - who will desert, but who, if they were in their ordinary -frame of mind and physical condition, and were able to weigh the matter and the importance of the step they proposed to take, would not do so. If it be deemed right to publish the names of privates and noncommissioned officers, then the names of. officers who commit military offences, and come back here with every eclat and garish display, should also be published.
.- I was pleased to hear the speech last delivered, because it went to show that the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) was justified in bringing these matters before the House.
I do not propose, at this juncture, to speak on the subject of military punish-, ment at the Front; but I wish to draw attention to one phase of the matter : the deprivation *of wives and children of allowances which would have come, to them but’ for the punishment inflicted on the soldiers on whom they were dependent. ‘ In some cases it happens that these allowances ‘ are not restored, although the dependants have got word that the soldiers concerned have been back in the Front, and have been wounded.
I desire to draw attention to the atrocious treatment by the military authorities of wounded boys who are found guilty of offences when on their way back home. A case has been brought under my notice, with which I had intended todeal during the Budget debate, in which fifteen wounded lads landed at Fremantle.
They were on their way home,, and were allowed to go on shore without being put in charge of an officer. They were not given definite instructions regarding the sailing of the boat for the’ eastern States, and they missed her. For this offence - and it is not a solitary case - they were incarcerated for twenty-nine days, and while in gaol were given prison fare, and put through physical drill until one young man, who had been wounded in the head, fainted. In addition, on the final settlement, twenty-nine days’ pay was deducted for the time during which they had been in prison. Had the lads deserted while on their way to the Front, one might have understood some such punishment; but these boys had played their part, and were practically home again. Their offence was not in the same category as desertion. In civil life, a man who is punished for an offence is seldom or never fined in addition; but these boys were imprisoned for twenty-nine days, and, in addition, were fined 6s. a day. The case is a standing disgrace to the military rule of this country. I hope that those in charge of the Defence Department will have it, and other similar cases, thoroughly inquired into.
.- I propose to direct my remarks to one aspect alone of the subject which has been discussed. I associate myself- with what has been said by the honorable member for New England (Lt.-Colonel Abbott) regarding the constitution of courts martial and the manner in which they deal with cases. A fact which, though it has been touched on, has not been emphasized as much as it should have been, is that in desertion cases -the mind of the Court is always directed to the need for establishing a deterrent. The desire is to maintain such a deterrent that other men will not -desert. I have seen cases that have been terribly hard on those who have been punished; but in war some one has to suffer for the benefit of the whole,, and unquestionably it must be made to appear to a soldier a terrible disgrace to be found guilty of desertion, and a terrible punishment must attach to the crime. The temptation to desert in the face of the enemy . is very, very strong. I was unfortunate enough to witness a pretty wholesale desertion, a ghastly experience. Nothing else could make one realize how essential it is that soldiers must have it in their minds, when their nerves are bad, and they might yield to terror, that if they do so a terrible thing will come upon them, and great disgrace fall upon their people.
– The wholesale desertions to which the honorable member refers were from the British Forces.
– The death penalty did not deter in that case.
– That is so. Nevertheless, there have been many cases in which men have hung on in critical circumstances, feeling that such a terrible penalty attaches -to desertion that nothing could be worse than to desert.
– It was the old British fighting spirit that caused them to hang on.
– They had the British spirit, but in the face of the enemy one may be led to do many things which he would not do under other circumstances. The penalty for desertion is a terrible one, and it is the more terrible when the soldier’s crime is published, and his disgrace affects, his people. That, however, is a necessary thing. This is not a master for civilians, who have not known what it is to be in the face of the enemy, to decide against military evidence.
– Does the honorable member suggest that there should be some form of physical or mental torture greater than death as a deterrent ?
– No. But the penalty for desertion has a grave effect, and is imposed to ‘ strengthen the bearing of those who may be placed in a dangerous position, when there is the horrible and ghastly temptation to yield. Let me tell the House, a short story that may emphasize the point of the honorable member for Ballarat, that the publishing in the newspaper of the names of deserters is a terrible punishment. I admit that the punishment is a terrible one, but I feel that it must be permitted to stand for the sake of the good men who have always played their part. In the early days of the Gallipoli campaign, when the men had been fighting and digging for three days, with practically no . rest at all, snatching an hour’s sleep when they could, a small post in front of the line was . put in charge of ten men and a corporal and lance-corporal. When the officer went to inspect it, the whole of these men were asleep. It was a terrible thing for him to discover, because the position was a critical one. The officer awoke the men, and changed the whole party. Next morning - he sent for the corporal and lance-corporal. I was in his dug-out when he talked to them. He pointed out that in the British Army the penalty for what, they had done was death. They were comparatively unmoved by that statement, being stolid fellows. The officer, however, was a big man, and he went on to say that he was going to take the responsibility of not reporting the matter. This was a grave responsibility, because if the corporal and lance-corporal were to fail on some subsequent occasion, and disaster were to ensue, the officer would be blamed. He then proceeded to talk to the men, pointing out what it would mean to them and to their people if they were again found guilty of an offence like this. They were gallant lads, who had responded to their country’s call, and were fighting on behalf of the nation, but were they to be shot for having been found asleep on duty, at home their pictures would be turned face to the wall, and their names would never be mentioned but as those who had practically been traitors to their country. The effect of this talk on those men was astounding. They were rough British “ Tommies,” and they sat in that dug-out crying.^
– Had the officer given those men a ‘sentence of three month’s he might have ruined them.
– None the less, from what I have seen I say that we cannot, out of sympathy with those who are punished and their relatives, betray the interests of the goo’d, decent men who are fighting for us.
As to the other matters mentioned, I share the opinion of the honorable member for New England, that if an officer betrays his trust his conduct is worse than that of a soldier who does so, and if he cannot be made to suffer the same penalty, he should be made to bear the same stigma, which is even worse than the penalty. . I would support the investigation of every case in which unfair, or unjust treatment has been given, to any soldier, but when .a soldier betrays his trust, or is absent from his battalion when it is called upon to move into a position of danger, and it cannot be proved beyond all doubt that his absence was due to an absolute accident, he and his relatives must suffer.
.- I am sure that every member present has been glad to hear the speeches of the hon- or able and gallant members for New England and Flinders.
We are proud to hear from the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) that that abomination of the past, the death penalty, has been abolished so far as Australian soldiers are concerned. There is one phase of this matter that may not have impressed honorable members generally so strongly as it has impressed me. The medical journals show that this war, more than any other, is producing serious nervous diseases-, such as shock and spinal neurasthenia. Men are seriously injured even though absolutely untouched by any missile. Neurologists, who make a special study of nerves, state definitely that many men in that condition are absolutely not answerable for their actions. I know of a case, that of the son of a medical man, who was buried for four hours. He will never do a hand’s turn again. He will read a few lines of printed matter, and will have no recollection of what he has read. His life is blasted for ever.
The honorable member for Ballarat spoke of a case that he heard referred to in the House of Commons, in which a man, whose sleeve was decorated with stripes . showing that he had been wounded five times, was shot by order of court martial’ because of his failure on a sixth occasion, when called upon, to go into that terrible No Man’s Land. Either the officer presiding over the court martial was suffering from shock and nervous strain, and did not know what he was doing, or he was a cold-blooded murderer. The honorable member for New England (Lt.-Colonel Abbott) said he was not aware that many heavy penalties had been imposed. I have before me a list of no . less than seven cases in which soldiers have been sentenced to penal servitude for life. In another case a sentence of fifteen years’ penal servitude was imposed. Many of the men who have been sentenced to long terms of penal servitude have fought and done their bit at that most terrible pit of destruction, Gallipoli. And” this is their reward. What is more, their wives and children, in many cases, are left to suffer from want of food. This, the most advanced country in the world, should take care that where wives and children allow their breadwinners to go away to fight for their country, they shall never be left short of food, no matter what offence the men commit. I took up some time ago the case of a’ woman whose husband, a soldier, was supposed to have been absent without leave, in consequence of which the payments to the wife were suspended. This’ woman and her children were suffering severely. It was eventually ascertained that the man had not been absent without leave for one day. The “Defence Department could not be blamed for the mistake, and when it ascertained the facts it made good the payments that had been stopped. ‘
Why should not an officer be punished for any offence that he commits, just as’ a private is punished? Why should an officer be sacrosanct? Does not such a system come down from the old and vile times when no private or common working man was thought to’, be fit for a commission, and when the power of the purse gave a man the right to command others, even where he had to depend on subordinates for guidance as to what he should do? Does it not come down from the vile times when it was thought that no one but a gentleman should be an officer? It is said that there could be no worse punishment for an officer than to be dismissed. There are swanking in the streets and in the ballrooms of Australia to-day officers - I know of one who wears a medal - who have been cashiered, the service, and the public know nothing of their dismissal. If an officer or a private commits murder in civil life he is hanged for iti Why should there be any different treatment in connexion with the Army?
Honorable members must have been impressed with the speeches delivered by the two honorable members who have held commissioned rank in the Australian Imperial Forces, as well as by the speech delivered by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), who. has also been fighting at the Front. By all means let officers and men be treated alike. The names of those who are punished should not be blazoned forth in the public press. Such a practice only means that the wives and dependants of these men have to suffer. If the Censor’s Department takes action to eliminate such reports from the press in the future, I shall bless it, although I have often had to curse it.
I was sorry to hear that General Birdwood was among those who- had asked for additional power to award punishment. General Birdwood gets a very good name from many of our returned soldiers.
– Some of them give him a good name, but all of them do not.
– My experience is that the majority speak well of him, but I am satisfied that the people of Australia will not be pleased when they hear that he is among those who are asking for greater power of punishment. The statements we have heard to-night will serve to justify the action of those who objected to the proposal of the Government to allow youths of nineteen to enlist without the consent of their parents. The three honorable members of this House who have returned from active service have all declared ‘that no one under twenty years of age should be allowed to go to the Front. I was pleased with the greater portion of the remarks made by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), but I shall be very sorry if he decides that his speech shall be censored. It is well that Australia should know what he has said to-night. I have only to say, in conclusion, that I hope the public, when they hear of a returned soldier acting as only a lunatic would do, will remember the nerveracking, experience through which he has passed. I hope they will remember that these men have had to fight with masks, and to contend against a deadly gas which cannot be seen, but which attacks the lungs, one of the most vulnerable parts of the human system: They have had to contend with vile instruments of murder which, although deadly in their effect, do not, in the case of shell-shock, for instance, leave even a trace of injury that can be detected by the surgeon. Finally, I hope that the decision of all courts martial will be revised in Australia. A calmer judgment is likely to prevail here, 12,000 miles away from the battle front; and if cases are re-heard we are not likely to have such punishments as have been meted out to Australian soldiers, and which are disgracing and spoiling the name of Australia to-day. ‘
.- The House is indebted to the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) for his action in bringing these matters forward and dealing with them as temperately as he has done. The statement made bythe Actiug Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) is also worthy of commendation from the point of view of the Government.. Many people think that the Government deal very harshly with cases of the kind that have been brought under notice to-night; but every soldier knows when he goes on active service that to desert in the face of the enemy is one of the most serious offences. I cannot understand a man being guilty of such an offence. Some men are fearful for the time being, but once they get into action their blood is up and they “ go for all they are worth.” That is my experience of men on active service.
– But fighting is different to-day - it is the going up and going up the line that tells.
– I know it is different. Any active service that I saw was but as a picnic compared with what is going on at the Front to-day.
We have to remember that our men have voluntarily gone to the Front. They have answered the call of Australia . and the Empire, and have gone to do their bit. Their parents and relatives have wished them God-speed, and if they commit any slight military offence for which they are punished, it must be very disagreeable for their people to read of it. The Acting Prime Ministersaid that if in civil life a man is punished for committing an offence, his people have to bear the opprobrium of it. But the position of such a man is different altogether from that of a man who, while fighting for his country, commits, some military offence. A man who is fighting for his country is” no criminal. He is not like a man who has taken something that does not belong to him, or has systematically embezzled his employer’s funds. As an honorable member who has led men in France said to-night, in an evil moment fear may overtake a man going into action, and he clears out. Because that man is a coward, are the whole ofhis relatives in Australia to be branded with his cowardice? In many cases it is riot cowardice, but nervous fear, that is responsible for his act; but it is blazoned forth in the press of Australia that Private So-and-so has received a sentence of twelve years for deserting in the face of the enemy. God knows the sentence itself is bad enough. I suppose these long sentences are intended to act as a deterrent to others.
– They seldom serve the full term.
– That is the point I was about to make. If after serving three months a man expresses contrition and says he would like to rejoin his battalion, is it not reasonable that the fact that he has rejoined his battalion and has returned to the trenches should be announced in the press just as his’ sentence was published ? I know of many men who have overstayed their leave, and who had no intention whatever of deserting. When they found that they were “ in the soup “ - that they had been absent without leave for a few hours - they said, “Well, we are in for it now, and we. might as well be killed for a sheep as a lamb.” They consequently absented themselves for a few days, and on their return were liable to be court-martialled and severely punished. Had they returned after only a few hours’ absence without leave, they would have, been sentenced, perhaps, only to pack drill, or to confinement to camp, or to fatigue duty, instead of to a term of imprisonment. I have seen men tied up to a gun wheel and flogged before’ breakfast, and some of those men had the bravest and best hearts that I ever found in a human being. And they were flogged for what? In some cases, for getting drunk. They had been away from drink for several months, and the first time they came on the track ofsome, they got hopelessly drunk; and for this th”ey were flogged like animals. Why should the relatives of men punished in this way suffer disgrace by reason of the publication of the names and offences through the press ? Many a good man gets drunk ; in fact, I think it is only good men who do get drunk. As to courts martial, those on the spot know the conditions, and what the actual crimes are. What can we know about this in Australia? By the time the “‘crime” sheets get here, so many tales are heard, that we are apt to come to the conclusion that the men have not done anything at all. As officers commanding have said, there must be sentences that have a ‘ deterrent effect. But did the flogging in my day in the service stop drunkenness? Not at all. The more the men were flogged the more they drank, and the more they drank the more they were flogged. As a result, the officer commanding the Force at that time, Lord Chelmsford, decided that flogging had to cease. Since I have got older and studied political history, I am inclined to the belief that Lord Chelmsford must have “ smelt a rat,” because it was just about that time that Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish party in the English Parliament gave the Government of the day such a doing that flogging was abolished in the English Army ?
– Why not call it the’ British Army?
– Because I happen to be an Englishman, I suppose. If the publication of the names and offences has not had the deterrent effect that; the Government and their advisers hoped, is it not disgrace enough for a man to be branded as a coward, and put into gaol as a coward, without putting the stain on his family and relatives in Australia? God knows that when the boys went away from Australia they went full of enthusiasm, and as full of fight as an “ egg is full of meat”. The sight of chevrons, which indicate how many times the man has been wounded, is good enough for me ; every day, as I go down the street and see the men returning maimed and mutilated, I could take my hat off to every one of them. If we are to believe what the newspapers tell us, we know the high opinion that the Germans have of the Australian soldiers; and for Heaven’s sake do not let us do anything to belittle the men and women who bred such brave men to fight for their hearths and homes on the fields of Flanders.
.- Like those who have preceded me, I desire to express my personal satisfaction, which I believe is shared, not only by . honorable members, but also by the public, at the action of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) in introducing this subject to-night. We all realize that it is not an easy subject to discuss, because, I suppose, we have all had letters from soldier friends at the Front which have somewhat lacerated our feelings and created a sense of strong antagonism to the courts martial, owing to what seem to be unnecessarily severe sentences. The Australian soldiers, perhaps, appeal more to us because of the fact that they have been so ready and so pronounced in their volunteering; and the further fact that they have risked their lives so freely and courageously affords to the ordinary layman a reason why some consideration should be given to them even if they do commit what, under ordinary circumstances, would be considered serious military offences. It is rather an unfortunate circumstance, although, perhaps, a necessary one, that immediately Australian soldiers touch the other side of the world they pass under the provisions’ of the British Army Act; That would not be so bad in itself if it were not that our men, during most of the war, have been under the control of British officers. One of the best improvements that has been made recently, and one which I regret was not made very much earlier, is that now Australians are working under Australian officers who understand the Australian point of view, and the Australian civil attitude, and can appreciate more than do Imperial officers the value of the sacrifices that the men have made. I think it would be found, if inquiry were possible, that military “ crimes “ by Australian soldiers have decreased considerably since Australian officers took charge of the Australian units. I am fortified in my opinion by letters I have received from soldiers, including officers as high in rank as majors, in regard to the abilities of General Birdwood. I am not going to criticise that officer to-night. He may be a very excellent British officer, but I think he absolutely and completely misunderstood the Australian point of view, and the Aus- “ tralian soldiers, “and he treated them in a way that was not in consonance with the mind of the. Australian” people, and a way that would not get the best out of them. 1 believe that under General Monash and other Australian officers now in charge our men will do better work, and that their interests will be more considerately looked after. “ The most satisfactory feature that has been elicited in the debate to-night is. the statement of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) that the Imperial authorities responded to the appeal of the Australian Government, and did not impose the death penalty . for serious military offences. This shows that, after all, the
British Army Act is elastic - that there are some things to which even such a stiff military Act, and such serious military procedure as the Act imposes, can be accommodated if objection is pressed. “We know that in other directions, at the imperative and persistent request of the Australian Government during the progress of the war, various concessions have been made to Australian soldiers by the- Imperial authorities. .
– The Germans have followed our example and abolished the death penalty.
– The trouble is that the death penalty is not entirely abolished in’ the British Army. Copies of four routine orders issued by FieldMarshal Sir Douglas Haig in April last, have reached me from a soldier friend, and the unfortunate and regrettable fact I notice in each of these is that courts martial reports take precedence of all other items. In each of the cases reported a soldier was charged with being a deserter from His Majesty’s Forces when on active service, and the details are given. There are’ seven cases dealt with in the four routine orders, and we are told that the sentence of the court was that the accused suffer death by being shot, and the sentence was in each case duly carried out between 6 and 1 o’clock in the morning. These, of course, were not Australians, but included amongst the members of British regiments were some Canadians. This , shows that the death penalty is still unfortunately being imposed on British soldiers.
– The honorable member is going beyond the scope of the motion.
– I merely wish to express satisfaction at the statement of the Acting Prime Minister to-night that at the request of the Australian Government the death penalty is not imposed on Australian soldiers. In the cases to which reference has been made there is the unfortunate procedure of publishing the number and names of the men who were punished. That is a point we have to stress very strongly; we have to protest against this stigma being placed on the relatives of our nien. After all, in many cases - I think in most cases- -the men did not know what they were doing, and were not really responsible. We can read in the newspapers almost every day, in the detailed reports of the various engagements, how wounded men, after a period of insensibility, find themselves crawling, not as they believe, to their own lines, but to the lines of the enemy. It occurs to soldiers on both sides to find themselves in the wrong trenches, after a series of wanderings in “ No Man’s Land.”
Question resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr. Jensen) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Excise Act 1901.
Bill presented and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Jensen) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Distillation Act 1901.
Bill, presented and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Jensen) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an
Act to amend the Spirits Act 1906-15.
Bill presented and read & first time.
Debate resumed from the 25th September (vide page 6384), on motion by Mr. Watt -
That the paper be printed.
.-I should like to know from the Government why there is no reference in the Ministerial statement to the proposed representation of the Commonwealth Government in London by a Minister. That surely is a matter important enough to call for some reference by . the Government. I wonder whether the Prime Minister ‘ (Mr. Hughes) has placed an embargo upon all reference to that matter, and I am reminded that in June last a cable message was received in Australia which drew from the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) a statement thla-t the Prime Minister and the- Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) were in London for the purpose of discussing the representation of the Commonwealth Government at the heart of the Empire. Almost immediately afterwards we were informed that Mr. Hughes, when questioned about the statement by London press representatives, said that there was no truth whatever in it. The Melbourne press referred that paragraph to the Acting Prime Minister, and the Melbourne Age of 21st June said- >
It was with manifest surprise, therefore, that the Acting Prime Minister yesterday read a cable message in the newspapers to the effect that Mr. Hughes had stated that there was no truth whatever in the statement. It might be, of course, that Mr. Watt’s admission reached London in a somewhat vague, or perhaps,’ mutilated- form, but he had not the slightest hesitation in repeating the admission, notwithstanding Mr. Hughes’ reported denial.
Had the Government nothing to say about this proposed representation in London? Are they ashamed of the proposal, or are they prevented by the Prime Minister from referring to it?
I have very great difficulty in ascertaining from the Acting Prime Minister when Mr. Hughes proposes to return to Australia. I hope that no one will get the impression that, because I have some remarks to make concerning the Prime Minister’s policy, I am attacking him personally. To-night’s Herald contains a reference to “ an attack by the honorable member for Capricornia upon Mr. Hughes.” I made no attack on Mr. Hughes as Mr. Hughes, but I am concerned about the doings of the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth in another part of the world. I tried to ascertain from the Acting Prime Minister yesterday when the Prime Minister will return to Australia, and he could not give me even an approximate date. I do not Wonder that the Prime Minister has not returned, because I have read in the press that he has been very well received and entertained, and, as the honorable member for Melbourne interjects, “ How can he leave the duchesses ?” A cable message published a few days ago stated that at a supper given by the British Parliamentary Association to the Australian Prime Minister there were present 1 prince, 2 marquises, 10 earls, 8 viscounts, 25 barons, and 60 knights, so we must excuse the Prime Minister if he prolongs his stay in the Old Country. But I take very grave exception to his declaration that he represents the Commonwealth in the speeches he has made upon various matters. In this connexion, I observe in the Ministerial statement this paragraph - .
The members of the National French Mission, headed by General Pau, have arrived in
Australia, and are the welcome guests of the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States. Everywhere they are received with popular enthusiasm, and the Government trusts that the visit will cement the ties between the people of this country and the great Republic of France.
That sounds well, and, I believe, correctly represents the sentiment of all Australians who know the history of Prance, and what - she has done in the war. But do the Government intend to back up those sentiments with anything like a business proposition? For example, are they prepared to sell Australian wool to France? In 1913 France bought £6,087,941 worth of greasy wool and £1,341,915 worth of scoured wool, or a total of £7,429,856. The British Government is said to have bought the whole of the Australian wool clip for the period of the war and twelve months afterwards.
– And that sale assures to France all the wool that is required.
-tI believe that the British Government does distribute to our Allies portion of the wool purchases. I notice that many members, and other people who do not know what is going on in the world, appear to be under the impression that the sale of the wool clip was a great commercial deal. It is referred to as “ the greatest single deal in the world’s wool history,” and the Government seem desirous of crediting the transaction to the business acumen of the Prime Minister. He had very little to do with the deal. Anybody could sell a commodity if he were prepared to dispose of it at a price which was about two-thirds of its value. I shall read to the House from the Melbourne Herald of 20th of this month the opinion of people in London on this wool deal -
Australian pastoralists appear, according to cablegrams published in London, to be satisfied with the net return they will receive from the purchase by the Imperial Government of their wool during the period of the war and one year thereafter. . . . Yet there are some able business men in London personally familiar with both the Australian position and. the prospects of the textile markets, who are saying that, substantial as is the price paid for the wool - 55 per cent, above the 1913-14 average - it is too low, all things considered; that the opinions of the manufacturers have been permitted to weigh too heavily in the negotiations; that the contrast between prices and world demand will be more sharply apparent a little later; and that it may indeed become, by comparison, in certain instances (by comparison with the high cotton values, for example) almost ridiculous..
Apparently this great deal, which has called forth so many cheers from the representatives of the pastoralists in this House, is laughed at in London.
– The honorable member might also read from the same article the criticism of the opinion which he has just read.
– Perhaps the Assistant Minister will supply the omission when he speaks. If the views expressed by those who understand the position in London are correct, the deal is absurd. And we are told by the Acting Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, that -
The Prime Minister and the Minister for the Navy are still in Britain. . . . They are at present endeavouring to remove the great and increasing difficulties surrounding the sale and shipment of our products, upon which so much depends for the preservation of our prosperity.
– The greatness of the deal lies in the. fact that, while Britain buys our produce, she also maintains the Navy, and that gives us a clear course for our wool to her own spot-cash markets.
– How can it be said that there are difficulties when the Prime Minister is prepared to barter away our products at about two-thirds of their value? We heard a great deal about the Prime Minister’s success in the purchase of the Commonwealth steamers. I know for a positive fact that, -at the time those vessels were purchased, he was running about the United Kingdom and France . making speeches, and left the purchases to a small, but respectable, although not very well known, firm in London. That firm was so anxious to earn its commission that it bid for the ships four times the cost of building them, and there was considerable anxiety in financial circles in London lest the Commonwealth should make a great loss on the transaction.
– It was a good deal, anyhow.
– It has proved so because of the war ; but if the war had terminated earlier, it would have been a very poor financial deal. For the purpose of comparison with the prices obtained for our wool, I have some particulars about cotton prices. In the UnitedKingdom, the price of cotton before the war was 73/4d. per lb. According to the London Times of 31st July, 1918, good middling cotton at that date was quoted at 20.83d. perlb., an increase of more than 250 per cent, on the pre-war price. Wheat before the war was 8s. 3d. per cwt. in Loudon ; and in 1916 had risen to 14s. 5d. Wool, in 1913, was101/8d. per lb.; in 1916’, 141/8d.; and to-day it is 151/2d. In the United States, cotton in 1913 was quoted at 12.80 cents per lb., and on the 31st July, 1918, at 29.20 cents. The fixed price of wheat, according to the New York Timesof the 1st July last, was 2 dollars 39 cents per bushel. In Canada, the fixed price of wheat in September, 1917 - No. 1 Northern, at Fort William and Port Arthur - was 2 dollars 21 cents per bushel. I remember reading that in Canada over 9s. per bushel had been received by the farmers for their wheat. Therefore, I do not think there. was anything remarkable about the transaction in which the Prime Minister sold the Australian wheat harvest for 4s. 6d. per bushel. In that deal he did not show any great business capacity.
– Is the honorable member contending for a high price for wheat in Australia?
– If we are to pay the heavy ‘ burden of interest on our public debt after the war, our primary producers must get the very highest possible prices for their products.
– That is quite a new doctrine from the honorable member.
– It is not. I have continually told the House that the city does not . understand the country, and that people who move about Australia do not realize what the farmers have to contend with. It is useless for the honorable member to saddle me with that played-out political cry of want’ of sympathy with the producers. If these prices are to be obtained for wool, wheat, and metals, the Australian public ought to get them, because they have,to pay a very heavy debt.
– The honorable member should lay the blame on those who failed to build ships two years ago..
– The Assistant Minister (Mr. Poynton) seems to be doing his level best to get shipbuilding going. Previously we had nothing but speeches. As the Sydney Morning Herald put it, “ We asked for ships, and the Prime Minister gave us speeches.” But we are making headway now.
– The only thing that stands between us and the realization of those prices is water transport.
– Are the honorable member and those whom he represents satisfied with the way in which wool apparently is being handled in London? According to the Melbourne Age of the 11th July, its correspondent says, “ Catalogues were bulky, and with the prices printed against each lot; there was no open bidding, as in pre-war days; each buyer held up his hand, to signify which lot he wanted.” Is that the manner in which the pastoralists want their wool dealt with? Apparently there was an agreement beforehand not to bid. Instead of sending Home the1 Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the Minister for the Wavy (Mr. Joseph Cook) to make business deals, accompanied by” a publicity officer, it would have been better to send Home some business man. The press generally are quite willing enough to record the doings of the Prime Minister and the number of viscounts, duchesses, and barons who attend his dinners.
In Queensland we are very much concerned as to the position of copper. The Prime Minister is said to have had a great deal of difficulty in’ selling Australian copper. It is said that he could only persuade the British Government to buy our copper until December next. I do not know what -influence he would have upon the British Government in that regard; but if it is a matter of charity or of inducing the Imperial Government to buy our products, I presume they would not object to our producers selling their copper to any of the Allied nations who require it. Prices are very much higher in America. According to the Times of the 31st July, copper was 27 cents per lb. in America in 1916, and 29 to 30 cents per lb. in Canada. Therefore, I suggest, that at an early date the Prime Minister should inquire whether the British Government have any objection to purchasing the Australian copper or releasing it from any embargo there may be on selling it to the Allies.
I take very great objection to the speeches delivered by the Prime Minister on matters of public policy, such as post-war trade, his appeal for the establishment of a league of English-speaking nations, excluding countries such as Prance, which are allied to us, his speeches concerning Empire trade, and his remarks that we should be a self-contained Empire. If we are to have a selfcontained Empire, with Protection against other countries, it means, as . the Conservative Melbourne Argus remarks, Free Trade within the Empire. The Argus wants to know whether the ‘ Prime Minister is prepared to subscribe to that doctrine. He may be prepared to do so, but I am anxious to learn whether the Government, which he is supposed to be leading, are in favour of Free Trade within the Empire.
I regret that I cannot find in the Ministerial statement any reference to the most vital question that concerns Australia,, and that is the protection of Australian, secondary industries. We have established a Repatriation Department, and we talk of spending millions pf pounds upon settling soldiers on the land. Those who know anything about the man on the land and the difficulties with which he has to contend, know that a good deal of money will be wasted on putting more people there. The best manner of preparing to deal with our soldiers when they come back to Australia is to impose a Protective Tariff sufficiently high to establish new industries and give employment, not only to our returned soldiers, but also to people whom we expect to come to Australia after the war. On various occasions I have endeavoured to get from the Acting Prime Minister a definite statement of the attitude of the Government on -this question. I have framed the question in all manner of ways, to try to extract the information from the Acting Prime Minister. I asked him if he proposed to introduce the Tariff at once. He replied, “Ho.” I asked, “ When does he propose to introduce the Tariff?” He said he would be prepared to give an answer at a later stage. At a later stage I asked him, “ Is he prepared to say whether the Government will introduce a Tariff during the life of the present Parliament?” I could get no definite reply.
– The Government introduced an amendment of the Tariff yesterday!
– The Government know that, in my question, I refer to a scientific
Tariff for the protection of Australian secondary industries.
– What about trying the Postmaster-General? He might tell you.
– I have no doubt the Postmaster-General has a great deal of sympathy with the proposal;’ but the many difficulties he has in putting his Department on a paying basis leave himno time to consider anything else. By the time he has succeeded in preparing the plans for the postal halls in the big cities, and generally improving the Service, he will have’ little leisure to devote to the question of the protection of Australian industries. That is not his duty. It is, perhaps, his duty, as a member of the Government, to prompt the Government to introduce a Protectionist Tariff ; but the Acting Prime Minister is the man upon whom the responsibility rests of saying what the Government propose to do. Some people are under the impression that the Australian Parliament cannot deal with the question of the Tariff during the war. When aTe we going to deal with it, then ? Are we to wait until the war is over? The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald) last night asked whether Australian manufacturers had not sufficient Protection at the present time, when no ships were coming to this country to bring goods to compete with them. He asked why they should not come forward now and establish the industries that ought to be established here. The Australian manufacturer has very poor prospects, if he has to depend merely upon the scarcity of imported goods during the present war to protect his industry, because after the war we shall see the most terrific race for trade and commerce throughout the world. I believe all those war-time agreements that are being suggested and prepared by the Prime Minister in London and elsewhere will become null and void, because it will be impossible to carry them out after the war. He is talking of boycotting German goods and German trade here, and preventing the Germans from getting our raw materials. I would draw attention to Foster Eraser’s Russia -of To-day, a book written in 1915, a year after the war started. The passage I shall quote shows that any attempt to boycott German goods after the war, or to prevent the Germans getting our raw materials, will fail, be cause it will be impossible to carry out such ‘ an arrangement. At page 66, the following -appears : -
The shops are stuffed with German goodsthe inflow of the manufactures of the enemy continues. But you cannot find a shopkeeper in Petrograd who has even a tin whistle of German origin for sale in his store. You proceed to make a purchase. “It looks rather German, doesn’t it?” you ask. “Oh, no, sir; it is English; it has come all the way from England, and that is why it is not so cheap!” “ There never was a thing produced like that in England,” you add. Nol” the shopman says, incredulously, “ then it must be American” - coming to .the conclusion he -had mistaken the nationality of his customer. “No, nor American; it’s German!” “Impossible, sir,” he declares; “Swedish, may be; very likely it is made in Sweden; but German - why, we are at’ war with Germany!” But it is German make, imported viti Sweden.
That is what is going to happen after the war. If you say you will have nothing to do with German productions, the German will brand them with the name of some manufacturer in Sweden, or Norway, or Denmark, or some other neutral country, and they will find their way here; and no doubt the traders in this country will buy from the Swedes, or the Danes, or the Dutch. I believe many Dutch firms have been established in this country during the war, possibly to take up German agencies. Are we going foolishly to agree to the Prime Minister’s proposal that there shall be a system of Empire trade, which is going to subject this country to the competition of German goods that might come through a neutral country, or perhaps through the United Kingdom? While the Prime Minister was supposed to be talking Protection for the Empire, he is reported to have said that what we required was manufactures to come from the United Kingdom, and raw materials to come from Australia. Do honorable members agree to that proposition? I do not, for one ; and I do not believe the general public in Australia aTe prepared to subscribe to that doctrine. We have an immense country, with under 5,000,000 people. We are always in fear that we shall be attacked by some, other nation. We are endeavouring to get population; yet we have the Prime Minister preaching these ideas throughout the Empire as the ideas of this Government. It is due to the public that the Government should state whether they believe in the
Prime Minister’s policy. .1 asked the Acting Prime Minister the other day whether he was prepared to give the House the opinion of the Government on Empire trade. He said he would he glad to do so when the occasion arose, and a convenient opportunity happened. I asked, also, whether the Government had seen the Prime Minister’s statement that he did not pin his faith to a Tariff, hut to organization. I could” get no reply from the Government. Ministers appear to be humbugging the House and the people.
– What has the PostmasterGeneral to say to that?
– I should like to know what the honorable member has to say to it. Is he, a prominent pastoralist, prepared to subscribe to the doctrine of scientific Protection for Australian industries, or does he want Free Trade? As one might have expected, he does not reply. Sell your wool abroad, and import galvanized iron and fencing wire as cheaply as possible is the view of many pastoralists. Apparently Protection has very little support in the public life of this country.
– It does not get much support from the party opposite. -
– There are fifty-three of them to twenty-two of us. It is sometimes asked why did Mr. Tudor, myself, and other Protectionists not do more for Protection when the Labour party was in power? It was because there were too many Free Traders in the party - men like the Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton), Senator Pearce, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes).
– The honorable member for Grey was a Protectionist on salt.
– You cannot find a division in which I voted for a duty on salt.
– There was a Free Trader who favoured an import duty on grindstones because those articles were made in his electorate. A number of members have spoken in favour of preferential trade within’ the Empire. -That seems to be the last resort of the Free Trader, who, if he cannot get Free Trade, favours preferential trade within the Empire to enable goods to be brought here at a cheap rate. I favour preferential trade only in regard to employers who pay the standard rates of wages and give pro per conditions to their workmen. I do not believe in giving preference to any sweater in any part of the Empire. But now the most unfair and tyrannical employers in the United Kingdom can send their goods here on the same conditions as fair employers. Moreover, our preferential Tariff is abused most flagrantly. For instance, I understand that boot laces are manufactured in Japan in lengths of thousands of yards, and are sent to the United Kingdom to have the tags put on them. They are then imported into Australia as goods of British origin. We would not allow Australian manufacturers to do what the British manufacturers do in this regard. If 25 per cent, of the labour employed in producing an article was British labour that article gets the benefit of our preferential Tariff.
– The finishing processes must have been carried out in Great Britain.
– Before the war the firm of Messrs. Raphael, Tuck, and Sons had establishments at Berlin, New York, Paris, and, I think, in Saxony. Moir and Sons, the jam manufacturers, had a factory in Spain. One of the things that, to my mind, would most quickly bring about the world’s peace is preferential trade among civilized countries, where you have the fair employer of labour, who manufactures his goods under proper’ standard conditions and pays standard rates of wages. Such employers should be allowed to import their goods at a preferential rate, but the importation of the goods of the sweater should be prohibited. Prior to the war there was in London a union of employers, with a capital of £50,000,000, the objects of that combine being “ to consolidate the resources of the employers of labour of the United Kingdom, and to maintain their rights and their freedom to bargain individually with free workers, or collectively with trade unionists.” A far more serious thing to Australia than the importation of goods from the United Kingdom under the preferential Tariff is the importation of goods from places like Japan. I do not wish to say a word against Japan, and shall not do so. I do not wish to reflect on a friendly Power which is -allied with. Great Britain, but any fair-minded Japanese will agree that, as we are here endeavouring to establish a high standard of civilization, based, in New SouthWales, so far as the Public Service is concerned - and it sets an example to private employers - on a minimum wage of £3 a week, we cannot be expected to allow the importation of goods from countries where workers receive a few pence a day, and are employed for sixty, and, in some cases, for seventytwo, hours in the week. But the greatest danger . which threatens this country, the United States of America, France, and other civilized countries comes from China. I was very interested to read the other day an interview with Mr. D. R. Hall, . the Attorney-General of New South Wales, who has just returned from a trip to China. He said: -
The labour conditions in Japan may appear poor compared with our own, but there they do have certain restrictions on the use of child labour. In China, there are no such restrictions. English firms in the cotton trade are, in many instances, abandoning the idea of developing their factories at Home, and are devoting their attention to China.
I would like to stress that statement for a moment, and draw special attention to the fact that English firms in the cotton, trade are abandoning all idea of extending their factories in the United Kingdom, and are putting up establishments in China. English capitalists are no different from other capitalists in that regard. The German capitalist is the same. Capitalists all over the world are the real internationalists. Honorable members sometimes speak with great scorn of the worker who calls himself an internationalist, and who looks forward to the time when there will be - “ The Parliament of man; the federation of the world.”
They ridicule him, but they lose sight of the fact that the capitalist is the real internationalist. The other day I asked the Acting Prime Minister if he would take steps to stop the investment of Australian capital in foreign countries, and, in his reply, he said he would consider the matter. The Government are still considering it, but I venture to say they are not going to make any attempt to stop it. In this country there are some people who are making money out of the war, and they are not going to put all that money into the war loans, out will invest it in foreign lands.
– What about Japanese capital invested here?
– It is quite clear that after, as before, the war, the capitalist will invest his. money in those countries where it is likely to yield him the biggest return, so one need not be surprised at Mr. David Hall’s statement that the English cotton . mill-owners were not bothering about the extension of their factories in the United Kingdom, but were setting up factories in China, where they can get labour at 3d. per day. Mr. Hail continues -
In Shanghai, I have been . through cotton mills where children often years are employed to attend the looms. They come on at 6 in the morning and knock off’ at6 in the evening. Their places are then taken by other children who do the next twelve hours’ shift. The wheels run constantly from 1st January to 31st December, save on one day, the Chinese New Year. Each child receives up to 3d. per day. Knowing that, and realizing how similar cheap labour may be used in other manufacturing processes, I feel justified in believing that, in the future, China is going to- be a serious menace to the great manu- . facturing nations. No one could hope to compete with her so long as conditions remain in their present state.
– Does it not appear to the honorable member that it is rather fallacious to argue that low wages make for success in industry ? Usually the most successful industries are those in which the highest wages are paid.
– The honorable member has stated what I consider to be a partial truth, but he will agree’ with me, I think, that if it is possible to get highlyperfected and almost automatic machinery, operated by child labour at 3d. per day, the product of that labour will interfere very greatly with the welfare of operatives employed in the textile industries of this country.
– But the general influence of cheap labour of that kind is to prevent the introduction of improved machinery, and, in that case, it fails.
– We all know very well that the capitalist, as a capitalist, is out to increase his wealth, and if human labour is cheaper than machinery, he will use it, as in Mexico, where, I believe, they use stone to grind the corn,, because labour is so cheap.
– But in the textile industriespractically all countries have adopted machinery, and in Japan the machinery is as good as in any country in the world.
– A number of very courageous people have stated - and they believe it - that the Allies are out to fight for the freedom and peace of the world, but here we have a country like China, with 300,000,000 or 400,000,000 people, in which the capitalists are prepared to establish industries, the product of which will compete seriously with the labour of the United Kingdom, Trance, the United States, and Australia, where every decentminded citizen is trying to improve his position, and bring up his family in comfort. In face of this fact, what is the use of the Prime Minister talking about boycotting goods of German origin and Protection for the British Empire? Our aim is to build up Australia, and establish a large population here. This, at all events, is the aim of the Australian Labour party, and possibly it is also the aim of some honorable members opposite. I believe that, if they were free, they would attempt to extend to the people of this country privileges which should be granted to them, but they un- fortunately aTe tied up, generally speaking, with la party which will not allow them to vote for legislation which -the Australian Labour party is prepared to give effect to. .1 would warn honorable members that every country, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia, will have to set its house in order after the war. Each country will have to pass such legislation as is calculated to conserve the interests of its people, and that will mean that, after all the sentimental and idealistic talk about setting up the freedom of the world and the league of ‘nations, that nation which does not look after its own people by legislative enactments will be left lamenting. For that reason I wish to-night to bring this question of protection for the secondary industries of the Commonwealth before the people of this country, and before the Ministry, in the hope that the Government, if they really believe in Protection, will grasp the opportunity to introduce legislation before the war ends, and so protect our industries, and so also that we shall not be left at the end of the war, subject to . the dumping which will certainly occur if our Tariff is not sufficiently high to protect Australian manufacturers.
.” - There is one matter which I am most anxious to’ bring under the notice of the Minister for Trade and Customs. Considerable trouble has been caused to the mercantile community by reason of the issue of certain regulations by the honorable gentleman. With every effort made by the Government to control the affairs of this country in the interests of the people, every honorable member must have complete sympathy, and I believe that in some respects the Ministry are endeavouring to do the right thing. But their action’ leaves them open to severe criticism because of the incidence and application of their efforts. The Minister recently issued a regulation which prevented importers withdrawing from bonds more than a certain quantity of goods. From the fact that the Department had considerably to alter that regulation it is obvious that it could not have been fully considered in the first instance. The fluctuations of Customs ‘ business in certain well-defined mercantile items are ofso pronounced a character that there must have been a very serious oversight when the Department framed such a farreaching regulation without providing for any elasticity in it. The result was that very soon it had to re-cast it. It is a matter for congratulation that the Minister waa so satisfied with the representations made by the mercantile community that he consented to certain modifications being effected in the regulation .as originally framed. Had that regulation been insisted upon, a very serious wrong would have been done to many firms.
– The honorable member approves of the principle of the regulation?
– Its principle is a very excellent one. I hope that the regulation will not be merely of a tentative character.
– It does not accomplish its object, because it very often happens that it is the free goods which the Department desires to reach, and it cannot prevent their removal’ from bond.
– Let me put the case in my own way. Let us assume that certain ships had discharged portion of their cargoes in Melbourne and Sydney prior to the issue of the regulation, and that they were on their way to other Australian ports when it was issued. Or let us suppose that some goods had been transhipped from their original port of destination to other Australian ports before the issue of the regulation. In such circumstances the firms which had not received delivery of their goods prior to its issue, would be placed at a serious disadvantage as compared with firms which had obtained delivery of them. That is a common erperience in connexion with Customs matters. We all know that when a new Tariff is laid on the table of this House the new duties levied under it operate the following morning. It has often happened that after a ship has left Melbourne, and before her. arrival in Brisbane, a new Tariff has come into operation, with the result that business people in that city were placed under a serious disability. I wish to suggest a very reasonable way of overcoming this handicap. I do not accuse the Minister of any desire to penalize any section of the community, but penalization does take place. The trouble, however, can easily be overcome, by making the new rates of duty apply only to goods which are landed subsequent to the imposition of the new duties, and by freeing all the goods in any ship or ships which have landed portion of their cargo at previous ports of call.
– Everything in bond will be covered by that.
– I think my suggestion a very fair one. It is obvious that if goods are imported some firms will be able, by reason of fortuitous circumstances, to place their goods on the market earlier than will other firms. Because of unfortunate circumstances preventing other firms taking delivery of goods consigned to them, they are penalized. When a portion of the goods in any ship has been discharged at one port, I submit that the remainder of its cargo should be subject to the same rates of duty as the portion which has been landed.
– That is a very difficult matter. For instance, a man in Perth may take out of a vessel half-a-dozen barrels of whisky, and place the rest of his consignment in bond.
– The position -
– I know the position.
– I am aware that the honorable member knows it, because I have discussed it with him, but without convincing him that my attitude upon this question is the correct one. The merchants of Sydney and Melbourne get the first grip upon goods which are imported from overseas.
– And in the case of Japanese goods the people of Brisbane get the first grip upon them. .
– To what extent does that remark apply ? Some firms are unreasonably handicapped because of the unfortunate position which they occupy from a geographical stand-point. I notice in the newspaper to-night an announcement that the Minister for Price Fixing has imposed a very proper embargo on any” increase in the price of intoxicating liquor until present stocks have been exhausted.
– The honorable member does not drink himself, and so he wishes the “ other “ fellow to be compelled to pay.
– I am neither complaining nor approving of the new rates of duty. I am merely pointing out that the mercantile community are always subject to the temptation - and it is one which we could all fall into, no doubt - that immediately new rates of duty are imposed, the opportunity is taken to make an extra profit upon those goods which are in stock and are free from the rates about to be applied. Naturally, the liquor people are after business in the same way as anybody else, and, if not prevented by this temporary arrangement, they would at once raise their prices to an equivalent of the rates to be applied under the new duty. There is yet a good deal of relief to be given in addition to that already granted under the new regulations. The Department has been amenable to a certain amount of. reason in regard to recent regulations, and has altered and improved them considerably. But there is much still to be done, and the deciding factor in the whole case is to so arrange matters that traders in one part of the community shall not be unduly penalized as against competitors in others parts of the Commonwealth. I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned. .
House adjourned at 10.42 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 June 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1918/19180626_reps_7_85/>.