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Friday, 20 November 1914

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I realize the importance of the amendment of Senator Turley, and also the sincerity of the Minister for Defence in endeavouring to send to the front the very best men, physically, mentally, and morally. I am sure that every honorable senator realizes that the Minister was actuated by the best motives in taking the course which he did. At the same time I think he will give those who take a different view the same credit as we give to him.

Senator Pearce - Yes; certainly.

Senator NEEDHAM - He will recognise, I am sure, that we desire that only the best men whom Australia can produce at any time shall go to the defence of the Empire whenever its prestige is threatened. I listened very carefully to the speech of the Minister in reply to Senator Turley. I confess that, had I been wavering on this question, his speech would not have convinced me; on tha contrary, it would have driven me into the opposite ranks. The Minister has given an order to abolish wet canteens in all camps of military training. It may be surprising to him to learn that he has not abolished the wet canteen at all, for the camps are just about as wet to-day - perhaps more so - than they were prior to the issue of the regulation.

Senator Watson - That shows the need of a remedy.

Senator NEEDHAM - The remedy suggested by the Minister is not an effective one.

Senator Watson - enow us what will be.

Senator NEEDHAM - If the honorable senator will be patient I will endeavor to explain what the remedy should be, though it may not be effective. The Minister, I know, is a busy man. He is in office at a most crucial period, and therefore he has not the same opportunity of seeing things as, perhaps, we of the rank and file have. I have seen soldiers in uniform taken out of the Essendon train and given the frogs' march across the platform to reach the other train to take them to Broadmeadows-

Senator Shannon - Was that in connexion with the present camp or the previous one?

Senator NEEDHAM - I am referring to members of the First Expeditionary Force whom. I saw in that condition after the abolition of the wet canteen.

Senator Ferricks - I saw that at Flinders-street station last night.

Senator Lt Colonel O'loghlin - What does that prove, anyhow?

Senator NEEDHAM - I will show directly what it proves.

Senator Shannon - It proves that the men did not get the liquor in camp.

Senator NEEDHAM - The point is that the men are human beings.

Senator Senior - That is not disputed for a moment.

Senator NEEDHAM - And just as the honorable senator would like a glass of ginger ale, so these men would like a glass of beer. I ask the Minister if he will complete his system. Will he prevent any officer in the camp from having whisky and beer? If a soldier cannot be trusted to have a glass of beer or two in the day. why should an officer be allowed to have a glass of beer or whisky in the camp ?

Senator Pearce - He is not allowed.

Senator NEEDHAM - The Minister's reply absolutely destroys his own position. If he is going to carry out this system of preventing a soldier from having a drink he should have a guard at the entrance to the camp to examine every soldier when he comes back from his leave.

Senator Pearce - There is.

Senator NEEDHAM - Is an officer examined ?

Senator Pearce - Yes.

Senator NEEDHAM - Then how does an officer get whisky in the camp ?

Senator Pearce - If he has whisky there he is liable to punishment for committing a breach of the regulation.

Senator NEEDHAM - I am pointing out to the Minister the weakness of his regulation. I tell him that I have seen liquor at both camps - at Broadmeadows and Blackboy Hill.

Senator Shannon - They will not let you in any more.

Senator NEEDHAM - I do not care whether they let me in or not, and I am not telling tales out of school. I desire to be consistent. This morning the Minister said that in taking drink a soldier impaired his health, and that he wished every soldier to go to the front in the best physical condition. Who should set an example? The officer.

Senator Barker - The Minister. - Senator NEEDHAM.- The Minister is not going to the front, but I believe that if it were necessary he would be just as willing to go as the next man. If an officer in a camp can have a drink without impairing his health, surely the soldier can have a drink, too !

Senator Blakey - Did Admiral Patey have his drink - £4 10s. a day ?

Senator NEEDHAM - Admiral Patey has been promoted, his salary has been increased, and he is now receiving a " table " allowance of £4 10s. per day. I believe that during my absence from the chamber the Minister explained exactly what that £4 10s. per day is intended to cover. But his explanation followed the lines of most Ministerial explanations, in. that it did not give us all the facts. Is Admiral Patey forbidden to have his glass of champagne, or whisky, or rum? Are the sailors on board his vessel prohibited from obtaining these things? No. The Minister has alluded to the traditions which are behind the British Navy and the British Army. In reply to my inquiry, he affirmed that grog is unobtainable by the sailors in the British Navy to-day. Let me tell him that every sailor in that Navy is allowed his glass of grog, once or twice each day. If he does not get it he takes its equivalent in money. We have built up a great Empire by the efforts of our men on land and Bea-

Senator Lynch - On beer.

Senator NEEDHAM - At any rate, they were not forbidden their beer. It is only within the last year or two that this wowseristic idea has laid hold of some of our public men.

Senator Watson - It was about fifty years ago.

Senator NEEDHAM - How old is the British Empire?

Senator Watson - It is a bit older than that.

Senator NEEDHAM - The men who built it up and died for it were not prevented from having their glass of beer if they chose to take it. Again, I would point out that the regulation issued by the Minister is, in operation, ineffective. In the streets of Melbourne each night we may see drunken soldiers in uniform. Why? Because they have left camp, where they could not obtain refreshment, and have come into town, where they have been lionized. People give them drink, and the result is the frog's march to which I have referred- If the Minister wishes to be absolutely consistent he should issue a regulation, that no soldier in uniform shall be served with drink in any hotel in Australia.

Senator McDougall - He cannot do that. I saw a blackfellow in uniform yesterday.

Senator NEEDHAM - These men should not be served with liquor in any hotel if they are denied it in camp. From every stand-point, the regulation is ineffective.

Senator Shannon - Is that any reason why it should not be put into operation?

Senator NEEDHAM - I am pointing out that it is ineffective inasmuch as it does not prevent drunkenness amongst the troops.

Senator Watson - Neither does the law against stealing prevent theft.

Senator NEEDHAM - Then, does the honorable senator advocate its repeal?

Senator Watson - Certainly not.

Senator NEEDHAM - Is it a crime to have a glass of beer?

Senator Watson - The crime is created by the conditions which it induces.

Senator NEEDHAM - I like that wowseristic statement again. Am I a criminal because I take a glass of beer? I visited the Blackboy Hill camp in

Western Australia, where the chaplains assured me that they desired to see the wet canteens restored. They pointed out that from the moment those canteens were abolished, sly-grog selling commenced. I passed outside the camp lines with two or three officers, who are now at sea on their May to the front, to a locality which had been nick-named Hay-street. It was a place where a number of persons were permitted to sell packets of pins, needles, &c. The men went outside the camp to this area, ostensibly to purchase these articles, and frequently returned with liquor.

Senator SENIOR - Is not that a charge against the police ?

Senator NEEDHAM - No . I am referring to a military camp. The men went outside the lines, presumably to purchase pins and needles, but returned to camp with very different articles in their pockets. If wet canteens are not to be established, the next best thing to do is to make every officer and soldier sign the pledge before enlisting.

Senator Turley - That would be honest.

Senator NEEDHAM - It would be. No officer or soldier should be allowed to touch drink after he has put on his uniform.

Senator Watson - Sobriety is a condition of employment in many trades.

Senator NEEDHAM - 1 am not an advocate of insobriety. °

Senator Watson - The honorable senator is an advocate of the canteen, which leads to insobriety.

Senator NEEDHAM - The canteen which I have in my mind is one which would be under proper supervision.

Senator Watson - The canteen which the honorable senator has in his mind is not that which is in operation in the British Forces to-day.

Senator NEEDHAM - The canteen which I have in my mind is that which is in existence to-day in the Fremantle Barracks. With two other members of Parliament - one a member of the Commonwealth Parliament and the other of the Western Australian Parliament - I recently visited those barracks. We were shown round by the major, and at the conclusion of our inspection were invited into the canteen. I had a glass of beer and my companions had soft drinks. I asked the major what was the rule in regard to the supply of liquor to the troops, and his reply was, " Each soldier can have only two drinks daily, and he has to consume them within the canteen. The soldier behind the bar is responsible for any misconduct."

Senator Shannon - Can that system be controlled better than can the present system ?

Senator NEEDHAM - That is the canteen which I advocate should be established in the camps.

Senator Shannon - Can the authorities control it?

Senator NEEDHAM - Absolutely. What is to stop them? What are the officers for?

Senator Shannon - The honorable senator said that the men got the liquor from a lace shop.

Senator NEEDHAM - If Senator Shannon cannot follow my remarks, I cannot help it. I am merely pointing out the kind of canteen which should be established. The Minister has not abolished the wet canteen in the barracks. That being so, will the men there, who may be called upon to-morrow to face the foe, be unable properly to respond to that call because they have taken a glass of beer? Let me remind honorable senators that one of the greatest industrial enterprises in the history of the world from a constructional stand-point is the Panama Canal. The men engaged upon that undertaking had to face very trying climatic conditions. De Lesseps, who originally controlled the work, finished up in gaol, and the whole enterprise was a failure. While he was in charge of the undertaking the mortality was abnormal. But after it had been placed under Government control the death rate was reduced very considerably, notwithstanding that at various points a canteen was established at which «very employe was allowed to have a glass of beer or of wine under the supervision of the canteen officer.

Senator de Largie - Is that how they cleared out the mosquitos there ?

Senator NEEDHAM - Yet the Minister told us that if a man has a glass of beer, or two glasses, he is not fit to go to the front to fight for the Empire.

Senator Senior - He did not say that.

Senator NEEDHAM - He said it absolutely, as Hansard will show. He said that he wanted to send men to the front physically and morally fit, and that if they took a glass of beer or two their moral and physical fitness would be impaired. He also pointed out that German soldiers under the influence of liquor have committed atrocities which have debased their manhood. But I would remind him that these men did not get that drink in a canteen, but as the result of looting the places which they had captured. Whilst the Minister is actuated by the very best motives, it is a reflection on the manhood of Australia to say that unless troops are total abstainers they cannot shoulder arms to defend our Empire. That is the logical sequence of the Minister's argument.

Senator Senior - The logical sequence of the honorable senator's argument is that if a man loots drink, it will do him harm, and if he gets it in the way the honorable senator suggests it will do him no harm.

Senator NEEDHAM - The man who gets drink by looting is under no control, and satisfies his appetite to the full. Under the canteen system a man cannot do that, because a responsible officer will be in charge of the canteen. I have mentioned some instances of men who have indulged too freely in drink. They knew that if it is " a long way to Tipperary," a long time would probably elapse before they could get another drink, and, like the camel, they took in all they could hold to carry them over that time. The wet canteen, under supervision, affords a remedy for that kind of thing. I have confidence in Australian manhood, and I believe that if the wet canteens were reinstated in our camps not a single man in uniform would be found under the influence of liquor in our streets.

Senator Senior - That was disproved by the facts in Adelaide.

Senator Barker - And in Melbourne, and every other city in Australia as well.

Senator NEEDHAM - One swallow never made a summer ; though my honorable friends are, perhaps, suggesting that too many swallows make a drunken soldier. Though I advocate the reinstatement of wet canteens, I wish it to be clearly understood that I am not an advocate of intemperance. The more we attempt to keep things away from people the more eager becomes their desire to get them. We have attached to this Parliament, as Senator Blakey has pointed out, a bar, at which we can obtain the refreshment we desire at any time. I do not know that there is a more sober body of men in the world than are the members of this National Parliament. If we can trust ourselves, we should be prepared to trust others. If we refuse our soldiers the right to have a glass of beer, we should close down the bar upstairs, and should determine never to enter a hotel again.

Senator Watson - We shall consider that afterwards.

Senator NEEDHAM - We should consider it now. It is entirely relevant to this debate. It has been shown that officers can have the refreshment they require when they want it. Will the Minister contend that this impairs their physical or moral efficiency? I do not think that he will. The example should certainly be set by the officers; and if we who are legislating for these men insist that their canteens should be dry canteens, we should close the refreshment bar and decline to enter a hotel.

Senator Senior - Let me remind the honorable senator that the Minister of Defence has already set the example.

Senator NEEDHAM - That may be so; but the officers under him do not follow it. Why does the Minister not insist that his officers shall set the same example? The Minister has issued a regulation that the men are to have no drink, and why should he not issue a similar regulation applying to the officers?

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - The regulation applies to the whole camp.

Senator NEEDHAM - I say that it does not apply to the officers.

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - It may, in some cases, be evaded.

Senator NEEDHAM - That is a strange admission. I say that we should reinstate the wet canteen, as, under that system, the men will be able to secure the refreshments they require under supervision.

Senator Grant - Why have any of these regulations at all? Why not give the men an unlimited supply of liquor, if they want it?

Senator NEEDHAM - I want the reinstatement of the wet canteen, where the sale of drink will be under proper supervision.

Senator Grant - Why all this supervision? Why not give the men a free hand in the matter just as we have here?

Senator NEEDHAM - Personally, I should be .prepared to do so, because I would trust the men as I trust myself, having confidence in Australian manhood. I think that the Minister of Defence will, upon reflection, see that he has taken up a very unwise attitude in this matter. I shall record my vote in favour of the amendment, with the full knowledge of the responsibility I assume, but without any desire whatever to encourage intemperance amongst our troops or the community generally.

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