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Friday, 12 December 1913

Senator BLAKEY (Victoria) . - As an ardent and whole-hearted supporter of the principle of universal training, I welcome this measure in the hope that it will have the effect of doing away with many of the pin-pricks arising from the present administration of the Defence Act. I agree with the ex-

Minister of Defence that no system can be fool-proof, and in instances which have been brought under the notice of honorable senators personally, or through the columns of the daily press, injustice has been inflicted upon some of the trainees. I asked a question recently in connexion with the case of two lads named Size, who were incarcerated at Fort Largs, in South Australia. The Minister did me the courtesy to show me a copy of the report received from the officer-in-charge. I feel convinced that that officer gave the complaint sympathetic attention. I am not objecting to the Minister's action in that matter, but only a few moments ago I received a letter from a gentleman who is taking an interest in the case, which is creating some discussion in the State. He informs me that the statement with which I was able to supply him, through the courtesy of the Minister, was purely an ex parte statement of the officer-in-charge, and has been denied by the boys incarcerated at Fort Largs. He makes a suggestion somewhat on the lines of that made by Senator Pearce, that there be a permanent civil commission appointed to go into the merits or demerits of these cases. No matter how fair an officer of the Defence Department may be, if his action or statements be criticised by a trainee or the mother of a trainee who has come under his ban, he naturally " puts the best side to London." I am satisfied that the universal training system is popular with the great bulk of Australian lads, but we should do what is possible to prevent friction in connexion with it, and the Minister of Defence might consider the suggestion which has been made. Senator McDougall referred to the trouble which occurred at the Liverpool camp, and I agree that we must take cum grano salis the accounts which have appeared in the press in connexion with that matter. I wish to refer to something that occurred in connexion with the camp recently held at Burrumbeet, 12 miles from Ballarat. According to the reports which have appeared in the press, a number of lads were marched on one of the hottest days in the season a distance of between 12 and 14 miles to that camp.

Senator Millen - With a little drummer lad in front of them.

Senator BLAKEY - I have a great admiration and respect for that little drummer lad, but every member of the force may not possess the physical strength, stamina, and heart of that lad. I do not -want our soldiers to be mollycoddled or to be cotton-wool soldiers, but there is such a thing as asking lads who are not in a good physical condition to march a little too far on a hot day laden with a heavy knapsack, and various accoutrements. I call attention to the fact that some public bodies in Ballarat have complained that one lad was practically kidnapped off the streets by the officer in charge of a particular regiment, and marched off to the camp. The lad was in civilian dress, and, so far as I know, this action was taken without any legal authority whatever.

Senator Pearce - The officer had legal authority under the Defence Act.

Senator BLAKEY - It is a pretty severe law that gives any officer such authority.

Senator Pearce - Truant officers have the same authority under the Education Act.

Senator BLAKEY - A lad may be in the street, on an important message for his parents, and yet it appears that an officer of the Defence Force may practically arrest him, although he is in plain clothes, and march him off to a camp 14 miles away.

Senator Pearce - He was marking a game of billiards in a billiard-room. That was his important occupation.

Senator Millen - Who does the honorable senator say kidnapped this boy ?

Senator BLAKEY - An officer of one of the regiments.

Senator Millen - He was taken by a civil policeman. The officer went there merely for the purpose of identifying the lad.

Senator BLAKEY - I am glad to hear the Minister say that. I have no wish to oppose the principle of compulsory training, but I hope that the Minister and members of the Senate generally will give all the assistance they can to remove the causes of friction, which may tend to break down that system.

Senator McGregor - Why does not the honorable senator say something about the thousands who do their duty without complaint?

Senator BLAKEY - I say all honour to them. I admire and appreciate their efforts to build up a citizen army for the defence of the Commonwealth, but I object to what I am given to understand is the attitude adopted by some officers in dragooning the trainees and kidnapping them from the streets. I think that that kind of thing should be prevented, while I admit that it is fair and just that those who do not perform their drills should be punished.

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