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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr BELL (Darwin) .- I wish briefly to discuss the proposed vote for defence. Very many persons in the community have been alarmed to read in the press, and some of us have read in the report of the Inspector-General of Military Forces (Sir Harry Chauvel) that the amount of money provided for the defence of Australia is quite inadequate to enable anything but the most incomplete training to be provided for a limited number of our young men. It will be allowed by the majority of honorable members of the committee, as well as by the great bulk of our people, that the first duty of the Government is to provide adequately for the defence of the country. It is generally realized, of course, that our resources in men and money are not sufficient for us to make full provision for defence against every possible aggressor; but we should be doing far more than we are doing, and at least, we should be wisely spending the money that is available. In my opinion the methods thai arc being adopted by those who are responsible for the actual training of our young men are satis factory. We have in Australia what is called a system of compulsory universal military training, but the word "universal" is a misnomer. In consequence of the reduction of the defence vote from time to time, many of our young men are not receiving any training whatever. I know that compulsory training is not popular with some of our youths, with some selfish employers in the communnity who are not willing to allow their employees off from their work for a half-day in the month, and with some parents who, on. other grounds, object to military training; but these persons are in a minority. The community in general, and our youths in particular, are quite prepared to give up a certain amount of their leisure in order to equip themselves, in some measure, at least, to defend their country if the need for it should arise. But it is unfortunate that while the young men in some towns are compelled to train, those in adjacent towns are left free to do as they please.

In my opinion we should provide sufficient money to make universal such training as is provided. The InspectorGeneral, in his report, reminds us that the compulsory training is limited to twelve days in each of three years in addition to an eight days' camp of continuous training each year. This is quite insufficient to enable our young men to become acquainted with the mechanical weapons and technical arms which are essential in these days to any moderately well-equipped defence force. Those responsible for the training of our men are doing very well under great disadvantages and discouragement, and I do not desire it to be thought that I am criticizing their work ; but I have actively interested myself for a number of years in defence matters, and although I do not suggest that I am better equipped to advise the Government than those who are at present charged with this duty, I feel that it is my duty to suggest that certain alterations should be made in our methods. It would be advisable, I submit, to provide for a period of six months' continuous training at some period in the life of our young men. The minimum period that could give any satisfactory results would be three months. We should get far better results than we are now obtaining if we were to place our trainees in camps for three months and give them an intensive course of training. Under the existing arrangement the men go into camp for one week in each year, and in addition attend twelve half-day parades. This is totally inadequate. It would be far more satisfactory to all the parties concerned if the men were obliged to enter camp for three consecutive months for the purposes of military training. That would give the officers and noncommissioned officers who are responsible for the training an opportunity to do really effective work.

Sir Neville Howse - At what age would the honorable member suggest these men should be put into camp?

Mr BELL - I should not take them in hand until they were at least sixteen years of age, but I would prefer them to be seventeen or eighteen years old. At the age mentioned most of them would have completed a reasonably good educational course, though they would hardly have settled down to their life's work.

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