When I was speaking last night I was dealing with what one might describe as the superior attitude of the permanent Civil Service towards the Army. It is something that is felt with a good deal of resentment within the Army itself. Possibly I lean too much to the other extreme, but I feel that the general attitude of the country to the Army is epitomised in the Civil Service attitude. I have never felt—I have said this before here—that the respect and goodwill there should be for the soldier is really there and even though matters have improved in recent years there are still people who take it upon themselves to look down on Army personnel.
We might typify our efforts on this measure within the old cliché of the mountain in labour bringing forth a mouse. The more I ponder on this measure the more convinced I am that as far as the Army itself is concerned this Bill marks a retrograde step. I have argued during the course of the passage of the Bill and I propose again to argue that the whole approach to the nursing service in the Army as enshrined in this measure is completely wrong. The intake of personnel into the Army Nursing Service is from the best possible class of highly trained and efficient, fully qualified nurses. This kind of hybrid state of existence that the Bill envisages is fundamentally bad and in actual fact is detrimental to the best interests of the service. I have argued and still argue with the Minister that there is nothing at all to prevent the Army Nursing Service being incorporated as a permanent limb of the Army, in which the qualified personnel can be graded in commissioned rank according to their appointment and responsibility.
Where the care and maintenance of the sick personnel is placed, in the main, in the hands of the Army Nursing Service, it is essential that its personnel in their seniority should enjoy ranks of a commissioned nature. If the doctor, the dentist or the other qualified male personnel rank as commissioned personnel—with special pay, requisites and perquisites, as a result of their qualifications—I cannot see any justification for not allowing a similar position to obtain in regard to trained, qualified nursing personnel within the Army as such. It is very good from the point of view of discipline within the hospital itself that nurses in the discharge of their duty would carry the authority and weight that a commission would give them.
Why cannot we progress with the times? Why must we dig into the archives of outmoded defence measures to find the basis on which to create this monstrosity, as I describe this Bill? It is, indeed, a negation of all parliamentary effort when one finds that of an immense and widely-flung series of amendments but a microscopic few were accepted and that any alteration or easement within the Bill was, in the main, on non-major issues and on technical devices. We must ask ourselves the straightforward question, is this measure an improvement, from the point of view of the Army, on the Continuance Bills and the multiple amendments thereto? Bad as that system was, Army personnel had infinitely more protection under it than they will have within the framework of this measure.
The criticism of this Bill is not directed to any individual Minister. It is directed to the whole background to the measure which is now in final form.
Why must we admit defeat before we start? Why must we deny ourselves the opportunity to produce a worthwhile Bill? That is what we have done. The lack of interest in this measure has been very discouraging, and possibly the Bill is leaving this House in such an unsatisfactory form because there was not sufficient interest taken in the measure and because discussion was not sufficiently broad and Parliament was not sufficiently jealous of its duty to one of the major State services, the Defence Forces.
Even at this stage I ask why it is necessary to impose many of the restrictions embodied in the Bill. I want to know why it is not possible to put the Army Nursing Service on a proper footing and the personnel thereof on a proper basis. If we can delve into the archives of defence force regulations of other countries to find a basis for other matters it would have been worth while to examine the situation in other forces with regard to the nursing service. If these estimable young women who are members of the Army Nursing Service are entitled to wear special uniform and are entitled to certain privileges and certain added remuneration, why cannot we go the rest of the way and give them the commission from the President that vests them with officer authority within their own sphere?
We have noted with considerable alarm the numbers of Army personnel, particularly officers, who are resigning or seeking release from the Army to-day. This measure will not be a bait to encourage them to remain in the forces. Can the Minister explain why so many officers are seeking release from the Army or why so many have obtained their release and are emigrating? Can the Minister hold out any hope that the passage of this Bill will result in amelioration of conditions for Army personnel? Can he assure this House that this kind of treatment of the Army as a difficult step-child of the State services will stop and that the Army will be on apari passu basis with other State services?
I know that this measure has been laboured a long time and I feel that, at this stage of the proceedings, I may possibly have spoken for too long. However, I am activated in this whole contribution by a realisation of the frustration that all our efforts have met with in the Bill which is now about to leave this House. It is not often that I find myselfad idem with Deputy Cowan but, virtually right through this measure, we have been ad idem in an effort to cut out much of its archaic phraseology and much of its archaic conception and we have tried to make it a measure germane to the Army in its present-day position. We have not succeeded in doing so and I feel the futility of that failure.
It is seldom a person hopes this, but I sincerely hope that in the very near future the administration of this Act will necessitate a rapid review and amendments that will bring this Act into line with the type of Act which it could have been and would have been if there had been a reasonable response to the reasoned and abstract arguments adduced for its improvement. I will not repeat again the complaints that can be made against the first principles within the Bill. However, I want to warn the House that it has too lightly permitted the passage of a Bill that enshrines fundamental principles in regard to interference with the liberty of the individual and in regard to interference with his emoluments and remuneration. From the very initiation of the Bill we have the false concept in Section 4 of what constitutes a state of emergency and that is so right to the end of this long and exhausting measure. From the start, the dice is loaded by the administrative section of the Department of Defence against the serving personnel of the Army.