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Wednesday, 25 November 1914

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I hope the Committee wil not accept the amendment. Its effect would be to throw an apple of discord into our camps if anything could do so. Senator Turley' s proposed amendment of the Bill is a straightforward one - wet canteens or no wet canteens. Now Senator Story proposes that we shall say that there shall be a wet canteen in camp, but that only a portion of the men in the camp shall have access to it.

Senator de Largie - No; all the men.

Senator PEARCE - Senator de Largie forgets that from the military point of view, all over eighteen years of age are recognised as men since they are liable for military service. Every lad over the age of eighteen years is eligible to enter an Expeditionary Force, and is compulsorily required to serve, if medically fit, in our Citizen Forces. Under the system of military organization the men are formed into companies, and in the Expeditionary Forces men of eighteen, nineteen, twenty, and up to thirty years of age, are to be found in the same company. Senator Story proposes to establish a rule that some of the men of a company shall be allowed to enter a wet canteen freely, whilst other members of the same company shall not be allowed to enter it at all. That is an invidious distinction to make amongst men who are to render equal service in the same company, and .undoubtedly it would create ill-feeling and dissatisfaction, and would be resented.

Senator Story - The boys would be anxious to become twenty-one, that is all.

Senator PEARCE - The temptation would be the same. It may be that persons under twenty-one years of age are more susceptible to temptation than are others, but there are plenty of persons over that age who have not drunk strong liquor at all, and to whom all the objections I raised last week would apply, even under the proposal of the honorable senator. It has to be remembered that the wet canteen is sought to be introduced! into a military encampment, and that the man in charge of it would have to discriminate. Now, how could he tell whether a man was twenty-one years of age or twenty-five? Would he be required to keep a list, and, when he was asked for a drink, to refer to the list to find out whether Private Jones was twenty-one, or to call upon the man to produce a birth certificate? The proposal has only to be examined to realize that it could not be carried out.

Senator Ferricks - How do the police discriminate in the matter of age ?

Senator PEARCE - Lads under twenty-one years of age are allowed to drink.

Senator Bakhap - But a boy under sixteen years of age is not allowed in a hotel.

Senator PEARCE - No; but one can tell whether a person is under sixteen years of age or not. I venture to say that, in the camp, there are plenty of persons nineteen years of age who look as old as men who are twenty-four or more.

Senator Ferricks - Under the Queensland Licensing Act a person under twenty-one years of age is not eligible to be served in a hotel.

Senator PEARCE - It is impossible to judge from his appearance whether a lad is twenty-one years of age or not. In the case of a State, there is the police force to administer the Licensing Act; but in the case of a wet canteen it is proposed to say to ,the man in charge, who will not be a policeman, but a soldier, it may be with the same company, " You have to judge whether men wanting a drink are twenty-one years of age or not." This proposal, if enacted, would become a dead letter. I trust that no one will vote for the proposal with the thought that he is safeguarding the soldiers under twenty- one years of age, because it can do nothing of the kind. The amendment of Senator Turley, however, is a straightforward way of dealing with the question, but the proposal of Senator Story is a miserable subterfuge, simply because it could not possibly be enforced. Let us decide straight out whether there are to be wet canteens or not, and if there are to be wet canteens, let us make no distinction between those over the age of eighteen years. If we were putting Senior Cadets into camp, and said, " We will not allow wet canteens for the Cadets, and will allow them for the Citizen Forces," that would be quite a simple thing to do, because the Department would be dealing with two separate organizations, and these would not go into camp together. At Broadmeadows, at one time, we had 11,000 men in camp. Would it be possible for any one man to know the ages of all the men, or to have a list of 13,000 names to consult in order to find out whether a particular man was twenty-one years of age or not?

Senator Shannon - As they all cleanshave, you cannot tell the age now.

Senator PEARCE - It is an unwritten' law that practically all the men cleanshave. I appeal to Senator Story not to press the amendment, but to let us take a straight-out vote on the question of whether there shall be wet canteens or not.

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