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Friday, 20 November 1914

Senator BLAKEY (Victoria) . - I hope that we shall consider this question in a calm and judicial manner. I agree with Senator Pearce's sentiments, and indorse his magnificent idea of trying to have an absolutely sober and. temperate body of men fighting for Australia and the Empire at this critical juncture of the nation's history; but, with all sincerity, I think he is on the wrong track. On Tuesday night I made a special visit to Broadmeadows to obtain information at first hand. I told the military policeman on the Broadmeadows station who I was, and what I wanted to find out; but for a while he would give me no information, because he said he was an Imperial officer, and did not want to express opinions in another country. I told him that my intentions were sincere and earnest, and that I wanted to give a right and proper vote on the question, my desire being that the health of the troops should be safeguarded, and that they should be a sober and sane body of men when they left Australia's shores. He then said, " I can give you my personal assurance that since the wet canteen was abolished in the second contingent, I, as one of the officers in charge, and a practical teetotaller, have had more trouble with men coming home drunk from Melbourne than when the wet canteen was in existence." I should like the Women's Christian Temperance Unions and various other temperance bodies, whose work I appreciate and admire, to look at the matter in this way, that until we stop the importation and manufacture of liquor in every shape and form we are not going to make men sober by Act of Parliament or by regulations applied to a military camp. If we had wet canteens at Broadmeadows, or Blackboy, in Western Australia, under proper regulation and supervision by officers whom we could trust, open for one hour in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night, and the men were allowed a certain quantity of ale or good wine, it would undoubtedly tend towards a better state of sobriety than exists at present. I do not want to act as a spy by telling the Minister what goes on at Broadmeadows at the present time, but it is my duty to inform him of the facts as they really exist. Most of the soldiers who come into town would probably not come in if they had the opportunity to have a glass of ale at a wet canteen at Broadmeadows. They meet many friends in town who want to say farewell to them, and the first salutation is the good old Australian one of " Come and have a drink." In this way they have more drinks than they should have, and about half -past 11 leave the city for the camp, most of them calling first at a little hotel in Russell-street and buying an inferior quality of whisky in a flask to take home to square the sentry so as to get through the lines. I am informed that that is an absolute fact. Surely the Minister will admit that it would be far better if the men were prevented from coming into the city, because human nature is human nature, and once in they will have a drink. It is of no use for Senator Senior, whose temperance principles I admire, to say that we can make all the soldiers at Broadmeadows teetotallers by Act of Parliament. I wish we could do so, but the men come into town, and get perhaps a little more alcohol than is good for them, and then, to make matters worse, take home these flasks of whisky. They are not searched on going through the lines, and they take the risks. If there was a wet canteen in existence providing only beer and wine - for I understand that no brandy or whisky is on sale at these canteens - the men would not be so much inclined' to fall under the influence of alcohol.

Senator Shannon - That is rather subtle reasoning.

Senator BLAKEY - But Senator Pearce 's reasoning is that because he has established a dry canteen at Broadmeadows, there will not be a single drunken soldier in Victoria. That is absolutely ridiculous and illogical reasoning. I will vote with any man or Government who will absolutely prohibit the manufacture and importation of alcohol. I admire the Russian Government for abolishing the sale of vodka, and the French Government for preventing the sale of absinthe; but if Senator Pearce wants to make the soldiers of the SecondExpeditionary Force a teetotal body, he must either bring in a law to abolish the sale of drink altogether or prevent every man from leaving the lines, and also stop outsiders from bringing in liquor surreptitiously. As one who wants to see the Force in every way a credit, and Australian soldiers to make a name for themselves on the battle-fields of Europe, I say in all sincerity that Senator Pearce's action is really making the men take more drink than they would if they had a wet canteen. The honorable senator said that the wet canteen system had been abolished in Canada.

Senator Pearce - I said the last military camp at Valcartier - the camp of the Expeditionary Force - was a dry camp.

Senator BLAKEY - Is the honorable senator aware that in Great Britain today seven soldiers at a camp can demand a canteen, and have it under proper supervision ? I am giving the Minister every credit for his action, but he is on wrong lines in the interests of the soldiers themselves. If he can tell me that simultaneously with the abolition of the wet canteen he is going to prevent any soldier from coming to Melbourne and going into hotels, and to prevent liquor being taken into the camp, I shall support him up tothe hilt. I am convinced that there is more drunkenness going on at the camp now than there was in the first Expeditionary camp when the wet canteen was in existence.

Senator Watson - How do you account for that?

Senator BLAKEY - Easily. The men have human desires, and cannot be made teetotallers by regulation. If they have an opportunity to get out of camp, with or without leave, they will do it. They sometimes break leave, come into Melbourne, and have drinks, whether the Minister says they are allowed to or not.

Senator Watson - Why should they get more outside than inside?

Senator BLAKEY - Because if there was a proper canteen in camp under regulation and supervision the men would be allowed only two or three glasses a day, just as is done on board a troopship. The men have more opportunities and more temptations in Bourke, Collins, or Swanston streets.

Senator Watson - Would not the same temptation be open to them even if they had a wet canteen?

Senator de Largie - No.

Senator BLAKEY - Let me give an instance. Last Sunday I met at Brighton a friend whom I have known since childhood. The hotels at Brighton are open on Sunday to bona fide travellers. This friend told me that he had come from the Broadmeadows camp all that distance to have a glass of beer because he wanted one. He said, "As a rule I never have more than two or three glasses of beer in a week, but to-day I squared the sergeant to give me leave, and came to Brighton, and have had three or four glasses of beer, whereas if there was a proper canteen in the camp I should have had only one."

Senator Watson - I question his bona fides.

Senator BLAKEY - I do not. I would take his word as readily as I would take that of the honorable senator. Senator Pearce said that the awful atrocities taking place in Belgium and the champagne districts of France were due to the fact that the German soldiers had raided the champagne cellars ; but will the abolition of the wet canteen at Broadmeadows stop those outrages or prevent any European soldier from raiding the champagne cellars if he feels so inclined.

Sitting suspended from1 to 2.30 p.m.

Senator BLAKEY - I do not propose to detain the Committee at any length. Some of the letters which honorable senators - at any rate, representatives of Victoria - have received to-day contain statements with which I heartily agree. A lady wrote to me from a Melbourne suburb in these terms: -

I view with grave concern the challenge made to Senator Pearce's decision to have a dry canteen at the camp. One who has any knowledge of medical science at all knows that in allowing our soldiers alcohol we are helping them to become easy victims to the foe, and also rendering them more susceptible to deadly diseases on the battle-field. I trust you will do all in your power to help our soldiers.

I am endeavouring, honestly and sincerely, to do all in my power to help the soldiers by trying to defeat the system established by the Minister of Defence. I may be wrong, but I believe that while human nature is constituted as it is, while men have their desires and passions, it is better to have these desires and passions under governmental control than to allow them to run riot as at present. Apparently, there is an unholy alliance between the Minister of Defence and the hotelkeepers of Melbourne, just the same as there is an unholy alliance between the bookmakers and the clergymen in connexion with the proposal to legalize the use of the totalizator. Some of these people, may I say the " wowser " section of the community-

Senator Shannon - Who are they?

Senator BLAKEY - Generally, they are intolerant, intemperate individuals.

Senator Shannon - That is not a description of a "wowser" at all.

Senator BLAKEY - That is what they generally are. They do not understand human nature, and think that by regulation or law they can reform the whole of the world. Right down from the days of the Pounder of Christianity, some people have held that opinion. It has never been done yet by the church or the Parliament, and, " although I am a Socialist, I am inclined to think that even Socialism will not make men all that one would like them to be. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister, in the interests of the sobriety of the troops, and in the interests of the nation, to see if he cannot relax the inane regulation which is doing more harm than good. I recognise that we all want to do the best we can for the soldiers who are going abroad to fight for the nation. We desire to reach the same goal, and I hope that the Committee will find the best possible means of insuring that our soldiers shall be, if not total abstainers, temperate to a certain extent. I think that if the men are allowed to have a glass of grog once or twice a day at the camp, the temptation to drink will be removed from them as well as the desire to go into the city, where they would have practically a free hand.

Senator Watson - You do not imply that they will come here in order to get drunk ?

Senator BLAKEY - I can say that many men come in from Broadmeadows camp for the sake of having a drink of beer because they cannot get any liquor at the camp, and instead of taking one drink they take one glass too many.

Senator McDougall - How many is that?

Senator BLAKEY - I do not know, as it is all a matter of temperament and degree. I may be wrong, but I am under the impression that the Minister of Defence once took the same attitude as I am taking now. I believe that he was once under the idea that it was a good thing to have some regulation of the use of alcohol in these camps.

Senator Shannon - He told us that this morning.

Senator BLAKEY - Then why has he changed his attitude?

Senator Needham - He is a sadder and wiser man.

Senator BLAKEY - He is a sadder, but not a wiser man. I desire to make my position on this question absolutely clear. I do not want any of my friends who are connected with temperance organizations to think for a moment that I am advocating the use of drink by the soldiers. I have a totally different idea in my mind. As one who takes a drink and knows that others do the same thing, I recognise that we cannot prevent the liquor traffic. I am advocating what I think is the best method to control the traffic. I am acting in the interests of the soldiers themselves: I know that there are some honorable senators who intend to vote for depriving soldiers of an opportunity to get a glass or two of beer, under proper control, who perhaps would be the very first to frequent the bar in this building. I do not blame them for that, but I do not want them to be political hypocrites. If it is right for those who make the laws under which the soldiers have to live, and under which perhaps some of them may have to die, to give themselves an opportunity to obtain one glass of drink a day, a week, or a year, they ought not to deprive fellow men of a similar privilege.

Senator Senior - Are the conditions the same?

Senator BLAKEY - The conditions are not the same, because here an honorable senator can get one or a> hundred glasses of liquor if he likes, but at a wet canteen the soldier would only be allowed to obtain two or three drinks a day. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. If it is right for the Minister to close the wet canteen at Broadmeadows camp, it would be only right for us to close the canteen in this building. I have spoken in all sincerity, and I wish my remarks to be taken in that spirit.

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