26 March 1924

9th Parliament · 2nd Session

The. Senate met at 3 p.m. pursuant to the notification of the. President.

ThePresident (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair and read prayers.

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The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon T Givens:

– I have to inform the Senate that I have received a communication from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral enclosing a certificate of the choice of John Blyth Hayes, Esq., C.M.G., to fill the casual vacancy in the representation of Tasmania in the Senate caused by the death of Senator Thomas Jerome Kingston Bakhap. The certificate will be laid on the table and read by the Clerk.

Certificate read by the Clerk.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon T Givens:

– It is with very great regret that I have to announce to the Senate the death, on 14th September last, of Senator the Honorable Edward Davis Millen. A funeral service was held in Queen’s Hall on 15th September, and the body was then taken to Sydney for burial. On behalf of the Senate I conveyed an expression of sympathy to Mrs. Millen and family pending the move formal resolution of the Senate. I have also to inform, the Senate that, pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution, I notified the Governor of the State of New SouthWales of the vacancy caused in the representation of that State in the Senate by the death of Senator the Hon. Edward Davis Millen, and that I have received a communication from his Excellency the Governor-General enclosing a certificate of the choice of Walter Massy Greene, Esquire, as a senator to fill the vacancy. The certificate will be laid on the table and read by the Clerk.

Certificate read by the Clerk.

Senator J. B. Hayes and Senator Greene made and subscribed the oath of allegiance.

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Senator PEARCE:
Minister for Home and Territories · Western Australia · NAT

(Byleave)-I move -

That the Senate expresses its sincere regret at thedeath of Senator the Honorable Edward Davis Millen, and places upon record its sincere appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and extends its profound sympathy to his widow and family in their sad bereavement.

I submit this motion with strong feelings of sorrow and regret, and desire to direct the attention of the Senate to not only the long parliamentary career which the late senator had, but also the great work which he accomplished in the course of that career. As honorable senators ure aware, the deceased gentleman -was a member of this Senate from its inception, and in addition to his parliamentary record in this Chamber, had also a great record in the Parliament of New South “Wales. Senator E. I). Millen was born in 1861 : for many years he was a journalist., and thereafter engaged in pastoral pursuits. He represented Bourke in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales from 1894 to 1898, was called to the Legislative Council of New South Wales in April, 1S99, and, resigning his seat on 14th May, 1901, wa3 elected to the first Commonwealth Parliament as a senator for New South “Wales. He represented his State continuously in that capacity up to the time of hia death. On the retirement of Senator Sir Josiah Symon in 1907 he was appointed Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. He was Vice-President of the Executive Council from June, 1909. to April, 1910; Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 1910 to 1913; Minister for Defence from June, 1913, to September, 1914 : Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from September, 1914, to February, 1917; Vice-President of the Executive Council from February to November, 1917 ; and Minister of State for Repatriation from September. 1917, to February, 1923. He also represented Australia at the Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva in 1920. This, indeed, constitutes a mighty record in the service of one’s country. The late honorable senator, as we all remember, was a keen fighter, but he was always a chivalrous opponent. He was a good Australian, with an Empire outlook. As Minister for Defence, at the outbreak of the world’s great war, when Australia faced the greatest and gravest crisis in its history, he was called upon to take the preliminary steps in this country’s participation in that momentous struggle; but every 0710 will agree that his great, his outstanding work, was the repatriation of our soldiers. Ho founded the Repatriation Department. Few members of the public realize the tremendous difficulties that he encountered in that undertaking. In the . first place, unlike other Government Departments, it was an entirely new service. The work was wholly new to Australia.. There was no precedent in Federal or State administration to guide him. Secondly, in accordance with the sentiment of the time and the general feeling both in Parliament and outside it, the Department was staffed, not as other Departments are with officers experienced in administrative work, but, in both the Repatriation and the War Service Homes Branch, with returned soldiers, the greater part of whom had had no experience in the administration of Government or public Departments. Upon the late honorable senator was cast the burden of founding a new and great Department, of commencing the work without any precedent to guide him, and of carrying it on with officers who had had no previous experience in governmental administration. I well remember the words that Senator E. D. Millen used when he was asked to undertake this work : “ I realize,” he said, “ what I am undertaking. This work will kill me, either politically or physically.” These words were, indeed, a prophecy.

The work accomplished by die deceased gentleman will stand for ever as a monument to him. I say without fear of successful challenge that no other country has so successfully repatriated its soldiers as has Australia; no country has done so much for its returned men. The difficulties of that conversion from a state of war to a state of peace cannot be overstated. It was a gigantic task for a young country like this to bring back its men from scenes of war and carnage and re-establish them in civil life; and when we look back and remember that this had to be done during that troubled reconstruction period which, in every country, caused immense dislocation, and opened up new and difficult problems of Government, we must realize that the late honorable senator grappled with his task in a- way that has built for him an enduring monument. As in all such cases, ho had to bear criticism while he was engaged in this momentous work. Ho was fearless of criticism. He never wilted under it ; but some of the criticism to which he was subjected, particularly by certain sections of the press, was most unfair and ungenerous. It bitdeeply into his soul, and those who were nearest to him knew, as I knew, that it did much to shorten his life. Under the strain and stress of what he regarded as unfair and ungenerous criticism, accompanied often by the imputation of base motives, he struggled on, moved by the highest promptings to do hig very best. I know he felt that criticism. I know that it did much to weaken hia effort, and to embarrass him, and it did much to undermine his health, both physically and mentally. He endured a tremendous strain in carrying out his work, and the least that could have been expected of his critics was that their criticism, at such a time and in such circumstances, would be generous and helpful. At a certain period of his Ministerial life, when a change was made in the Government, he knew that his physical strength was ebbing, and that to retain office would be to endanger his life and preclude any chance of a recovery of health. He considered then the advisability of retiring, but the one thing, and one thing only, that prevented him from leaving office was the thought that his ungenerous critics would say that his retirement was a confession of failure and a justification of their criticism. This feeling alone induced him to retain office and fight on with failing health and strength to consummate the work he had begun.

I feel keenly the loss of the late honorable senator, because of the long personal association I had with him. He was a colleague of mine in this Chamber from its inception. We were not always on the same side. We were very often in political conflict, but we were always personal friends, and none of the fighting that took place ever left a sting. It can truthfully be said of the deceased gentleman that his whole life was spent in the service of his country, and the greater part of that life was given, while he was a Minister, in the time of Australia’s greatest peril and crisis. Australia has lost a good citizen and a statesman, and this Parliament has lost one of the keenest intellects it ever possessed. Of the loss to his widow and family we cannot speak, but it must be great. All we can do is to extend to them our sympathy and condolence. Another great intellect in this Parliament has passed away; another life, packed full of usefulness and active service, has been shortened by the stress and strain of political exigency. We in this Senate know that, and we take this opportunity of rendering our tribute to Senator E. D. Millen’s great service in the hope that the people of Australia will believe that what we say to-day is said with absolute sincerity. We hope that it will assist them to realize the sacrifice they ask men to endure in the public life of Australia, and that it will lead to a more sympathetic consideration and a more generous criticism of public men.

New South Wales

– It is with deep sorrow that I second the motion submitted by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce). I need not tell those members of this Chamber who knew Senator E. D. Millen for so many years that I am speaking, not only for my own party, but for every honorable senator, when I say that his loss has occasioned regret to each and every one of us. It was my privilege to be a member of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales thirty years ago, when the deceased gentleman, then a young man, first entered that House. In his first session he reached the very forefront as a parliamentarian; and his work, even at that early stage of his political life, gave promise of the career that has just terminated, after many years of strenuous public service. It is a tribute to his memory that in not one of the many fierce contests in which he participated,’ whether as a member of the Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council of New South Wales, or as a member of the Senate of the Commonwealth, which he entered at its inception as a representative of the State of New South Wales, was he defeated. That in itself must be regarded as a tribute to him from the whole of the people of New South Wales. No matter from what side of politics we regarded him, we all recognised the marked ability he displayed, not only as a member of various Commonwealth Administrations, but also as Australia’s representative at the Assembly of the League of Nations. No duty undertaken by him was ever left half -finished. He carried out conscientiously, thoroughly, and well, every task intrusted to him, and won the admiration of friends and opponents alike - we were never his enemies - by his undoubted talent. As a Leader of. this Senate I doubt if we shall’ see his equal. He was ever keen in debate, keen to manage and watch the business of the Senate, keen to keep clearly and closely to the constitutional procedure laid down for the conduct of the business of this Chamber. We all admired and appreciated his leadership. Now he has gone, and if service well and honorably rendered, ic a strenuous life given to the service of one’s country entitles one to rest, then I say that Senator E. D. Millen has earned it well.

In these few feeble words, I know that I am but inadequately voicing the deep regret that the Parliament and the country feel at the loss of one who was able to guide the business of this Senate with the skill,, ability, and talent evinced by the deceased gentleman. Ready in debate, quick to appreciate the weakness of an opponent’s argument, and quicker still to take advantage of it, he was able, apparently without striving for it, to retain the friendship of. all with whom he came in contact, both inside and outside this Parliament. In his public offices he merely took the duties which came to him. Whenever Ministerial office came his way, it was not of his seeking. The public demanded his services, and he gave of them to the very best of his energy and ability. When he fought the last election as a member of the Hughes Administration, I venture to say that if he had followed his own inclinations, he would have admitted that his physical infirmities demanded that he should rest; but a patriotic desire to give his all to his country seemed to spur him on, aud that contest .left him still a member of the Senate. With the resignation of that Government, further service by him in this Chamber was rendered impracticable by his failing health. In the few months before his death we saw the final phase of the life of a great debater, and a man skilled in directing the destinies of the nation. His was one of the brightest intellects that has ever adorned this Parliament. My party joins with the Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Pearce) in expressing keen sympathy with the widow and family of the deceased in their great loss. If we, his friends, have a deep sense of grief, how severe must be the loss to Mrs. Millen and her family. We are unable to do more than express our sorrow and sympathy with them ; but we wish to leave with them the consolation that we, who knew him, appreciated to the ‘highest degree his great abilities, and particularly the services he rendered to the Parliament and people of Australia. .

Senator DUNCAN:
New South Wales

.t- It is always difficult to speak to a motion of this nature, but it is particularly trying when it refers to one whom we knew and loved, as we did the late Senator E. D, Millen. As one who was associated with him in the representation of the State of New South Wales in the Senate, and in whom he displayed some special interest by offering advice and guidance at certain times, I feel that I cannot let this occasion pass without saying how deeply I deplore the loss sustained by the people of Australia generally, and t’he public of New South Wales in particular, whose valued representative he was. I desire, however, ‘to speak to this motion more particularly on behalf of the returned soldiers of Australia, who knew «n.d trusted him, and who loved him for the work he did for them. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) has spoken of the criticism to which the late honorable senator was subjected. We all know that most of the criticism that came from the press and from other quarters should have been levelled not against Senator Millen, ‘but against those for whom he stood, and on whose behalf he took the blame rather than that they should receive that which they justly deserved. He was loyal to his friends and comrades, and, indeed, to all with whom he was associated,’ but he was particularly loyal to those returned soldiers on whose behalf he ‘did so much, and for whom, eventually, he actually gave his life. He built up out of nothing the huge organization connected with the repatriation scheme. That alone was a task greater, perhaps, than had previously confronted any public man in Australia, :and if there were at times happenings associated with the Repatriation Department which seemed to be not all that they ‘ought to have been, there are those of us who know that those incidents were due, not to any failure on the part of the late honorable gentleman, but to the fact that those actually responsible for them had on many occasions refused to observe the instructions laid down by him. Senator E. D. Millen did magnificent work for the returned men, - and because of it they honour and revere his memory. From one end of Australia to tha other there are thousands of homes where happy families are living in comfort to-day as a result of the energetic and able administration of the deceased gentleman. These happy families are a lasting monument to- his work - a far greater and better memorial than one of marble, or any other that could be erected by the people of Australia. His work lives in the hearts of the people. They will never forget him. The people of New South Wales, whose representative he was for so many years, will always cherish his memory. They knew and loved him, and regret that, to-day, he is not still acting as their representative. Without in any way belittling the magnificent capacity of the honorable gentleman who- has taken hig place, I feel I can say- and I am sure- that every honorable senator will agree with me - that Senator £. D. Milieu was, perhaps, the greatest representative New South Wales ever had, or is likely to have, in this Senate. His capacity was higher than that of most other men in the public life of Australia. In the work he undertook he rendered good service to this country; he did much to build up those national ideals that we honour and revere, and .to his memory we should pay lasting tribute.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) [3.31].- Before submitting the motion, I desire on behalf of the Senate generally, and myself particularly, to offer a few observations in regard to the deceased gentleman, who was one of the closest end dearest personal friends and political associates I have .ever had. Every honorable senator will acknowledge that by reason of ‘his death the Senate and the public life of Australia are very much the poorer. Senator E. D.. Millen brought to the service of his country and to the discbarge of his duties iu the Senate a political capacity that has seldom, if ever, een equalled’. I sat with him in this Chamber for twenty years, and in the whole of my parliamentary life, extending over a. quarter of a century, I have never had the honour of being associated with any one who could be regarded aB his parliamentary superior. He brought to the debates in this Senate a facility, felicity, and ability of expression that were beyond all praise. His contributions to the discussions were always of the greatest possible value to the Parliament and the country. I have never had tho pleasure of listening to any one who could put a case more convincingly or attractively than could the deceased gentleman, and I am sure he won the unstinted admiration of every senator, and those of the public who had the privilege of watching hia work here, by the wonderful ability and acumen with which he handled every question that came before this Chamber. As the Leader of. the Senate (Senator Pearce) hae said, he sacrificed his life in the interests of his country. For a considerable time before his lamented death it was only u high sense of public duty that induced him to remain in office. Because of his high .sense of public duty and -his desire fca give of his very best to the great task which he had’ undertaken, he remained in office when seriously attacked in health, and so rendered his recovery impossible.

The late Senator E. D. Millen had most endearing qualities. When he and I sat on opposite sides of the Chamber we had many hard and at times bitter political -conflicts, but this made not the slightest difference in the friendship and regard we had for each other. J do not think it could be said that there were two men in Australia who were greater friends than we were just prior to bis -death. In spite of political differences, during the years I was associated with him our friendship never wavered. He always displayed a broad spirit, and the marked capacity which he brought to the public service of the Commonwealth endeared him to every one of us. The people of Australia, I am satisfied, will appraise his work at its true worth, and give to his memory that generous meed of recognition which was not fully accorded him during his life. Every «ne -will feel the utmost sympathy for his sorrowing widow and family. I was in another State when I learned of Ms death, but on behalf of the Senate I immediately forwarded to hi.? widow and family the fullest possible expression of sorrow and sympathy that I could compress- into the limits of a telegram. I am sure that action has the approval of every honorable senator.

As the Lender of the Government in the Senate has said, Senator E. D. Millen’s death at such a relatively early age, when he should have been enjoying the fullness of life, is but another tes- - timony to the awful tribute that the parliamentary life of Australia is exacting from those who devote their lives to the service of their country. It should be of some concern to the people of Australia that so many men of great ability like the late Senator E. D. Milieu have lost their lives in their devotion to public duty. I sincerely regret the many occasions that the Senate has been called upon to consider motions of this character. One by one the older members are disappearing, and in a Parliament of 112, no less than seventy-seven, or nearly 75 per cent., of those who were here as members have passed away in the short space of twenty-three years. It is appalling that the public life of this country should exact such sacrifices, and if the press and public recognised the great sacrifice of health, comfort, and leisure our public men make they would be a little more generous in their criticism of them. The late Senator E. D. Millen felt very keenly the ungenerous criticism that sometimes fell to his lot. Every one of us had the fullest sympathy with him at the time, and I am certain that his sorrowing widow and family, who must also have felt the strain, will derive some slight consolation from the expressions of sympathy to which we have given utterance.

Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable senators standing in their places.


– I need hardly say that I shall take steps to have this motion conveyed to the widow and family of the late Senator E. D. Millen in proper memorial form.

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Senator PEARCE:
Minister for Home and Territories · “Western Australia · NAT

– As a mark of respect to the memory of the late Senator E. D. Millen, Imove -

That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until 3 p.m. to-morrow.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 3.38 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 26 March 1924, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.