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Thursday, 26 November 1914

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I want to do what is fair as between the universal training system and the cadets, and I frankly confess that I would like a further expression of opinion on this matter from the Committee. If it is the general wish of honorable senators that the training area should be reduced, we might make the distance, say, 4 miles.

Senator Watson - Why not 3 miles?

Senator PEARCE - Because by so doing we would shut out a tremendous number of lads from training altogether.

Senator Millen - We could only shut out those who reside at a distance of more than 3 miles from the training centre.

Senator PEARCE - That is not so, as the honorable senator will recognise in a moment. At the present time our training area may take the form of a circle, and lads who reside within a distance of 5 miles from its centre are required to attend drill. Our training areas are based upon the fact that within them a certain number of youths require to be trained. Within a radius of 5 miles of a training centre a district may be able to provide sufficient lads to warrant it being proclaimed a training area. But if we reduce the radius to 3 miles we may not be able to get sufficient youths to warrant it being constituted a training area. In the country districts there has been more dissatisfaction expressed because we have not declared certain centres training areas than there has been because we have proclaimed particular centres .training areas. Not a week passes but there are requests for towns to be brought into a training area. When such a request is made, the first thing done is to find out how many lads there are within a given distance. When that information is obtained, and it is ascertained that there are twenty or thirty lads short of the required number, the request is refused, and a great deal of dissatisfac tion is expressed. In many cases it is the lads themselves who ask that it should be done. Now, where a training area is established, an instructor has to be stationed there. If it is proposed to haveinstructors stationed all over the country with very few lads to be trained, honorable senators will see that it will add enormously to the cost of the defence system. It has to be remembered that, in reducing the area, say, to 4 miles, they will not only shut out the lads between the 4-mile and the 5-mile limit, but the probability is that in many of the scattered districts areas which are now included will be excluded, because there will not be sufficient lads within the 4 miles to comply with the prescribed condition. As I have said before, the clause contains two safeguards. In the first case, the distance of 5 miles is not arbitrary. There are many areas where 3 miles is the distance. In the second" case, my amendment gives the power to exempt lads. I have no objection to put in " Minister " instead of "District Commandant." My only object in putting in " District Commandant" was to get a more speedy settlement of these questions; in fact, to decentralize. If we substitute "Minister " for " District Commandant," what will it mean when a request for an exemption is made in North or Central Queensland? The request will have to filter through the Area Officer to the Brigade Officer, next to the District Commandant, and then to the central head-quarters here. Obviously we here will not know the circumstances of the case as well as the District Commandant should. It may be that he would not take as sympathetic a view as the Minister might take, but certainly it would be far better, at any rate, more speedy, if he could act on the spot. In an isolated case, where it would be a hardship for a lad, although it might be desirable from the stand-point of the Act, we should extend the radius so as to take in that centre. We desire the power, in order to be able to exempt where necessary. I have no strong objection to put in " Minister " if the Committee think fit ; but I do suggest that honorable senators should not be too hasty in omitting the 5 miles, and putting in anything less. In the past the areas have been allotted, as far as possible, to meet the cases. In determining the shape of an area, we have taken lines of communication into consideration as far as we could. It is all a matter of population density; and it is unavoidable that, now and again, we will bring in lads who have not facilities for getting to the training centre.

Senator Needham - How much more would it cost to make the distance 5 miles ?

Senator PEARCE - I cannot say, because I do not know how many new training centres would need to be brought in. Let me give a case with which senators from Western Australia are familiar. Such towns as- Cue and Day Dawn were declared one training area, and the lads had to go from Cue to Day Dawn, or vice versa. Honorable senators who know that every lad in those towns has a bicycle, and that it is flat country to ride over, realize that it is no very great hardship for a lad to have to travel from one place to the other, and frequently vehicles are travelling between the towns. For nine months of the year it has as good a climate as can be found in Australia, and in the summer months we do not carry out any training. For their own pleasure the lads travel backwards and forwards. Owing to the population decreasing we had to close the training area, and already we have received complaints. Suppose that the two towns wove 5 miles apart, the probability is that we would have one training centre. There are one or two cases where we have made a centre half-way between the towns, and bring the lads to the common centre. I trust that the Committee will not decrease the distance, although, if there i3 any strong opinion held on the matter, I would like to hear it.

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