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Wednesday, 12 November 1941

Senator BRAND (Victoria) .- I desire to draw attention to the dissatisfaction of rifle club members in regard to the decision to withdraw their private rifles and issue them to other units. No objection is taken to the Government purchasing rifles from owners who have enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force or the Royal Australian Air Force, but when rifle club members have joined the Volunteer Defence Corps, now termed the Home Guard, it is contended that they should be allowed to retain their rifles. About 8,000 men have joined the Volunteer Defence Corps. These men are expert shots. They have trained themselves to become snipers, a role which, some day, the Volunteer Defence Corps may be called upon to play. About 30 per cent, of the 50,000 members of the Volunteer Defence Corps have never handled a rifle. Here is a golden opportunity for the military authorities to utilize the services of these specialists. Instead, the Government proposes to buy back these rifles and re-adjust them for use by other branches of the service. In each British Army battalion there is a section of sniping specialists armed with short rifles fitted with aperture sights. Rifle club members are identical with these sections, yet the Commonwealth Army authorities have recommended that the rifles be withdrawn from our expert snipers and handed over to others, who have still to learn to shoot straight. The rifle apparently is not considered an obsolete weapon or the Small

Arms Factory at Lithgow would not he turning out 1,000 a week. I shall not accept the statement that there is a shortage of rifles; it is the distribution which is at fault. I respectfully ask that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) look into this matter more closely. Here are men who, in peace time, at little expense to the country, have qualified themselves for the task that they may be called upon to undertake. Instead of encouraging them to join the Volunteer Defence Corps the military authorities are discouraging them. Under the defence plans prepared in pre-war days, rifle club members were officially reservists, and were sworn in as such, but as this war progressed, for various reasons, the scheme never matured. Hundreds enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, hundreds were called up for compulsory service and are now on the active list of Militia units, others again were listed in reserved occupations. Prior to the formation of the Volunteer Defence Corps many thousands of rifle club members were only too anxious to continue in the role of reservists, keeping themselves in practice and giving instruction in local centres to scores of young and middleaged men who hitherto took no interest in defence. Suddenly, all this patriotic activity ceased, and rifle clubs were put in cold storage because no ammunition was available. That is the position to-day, though millions of rounds are turned out weekly in our small arms ammunition factories. Seeing no prospect of serving their country as members of rifle clubs, about 8,000 linked up with the Volunteer Defence Corps. Imagine their disappointment when, instead of taking their own rifles with them, they were told that they could not do so, but must sell their rifles - specially prepared for sniping - to the Government. The whole business shows a short-sighted policy. The Volunteer Defence Corps is hampered in its training, and the enthusiasm of thousands of patriotic citizens dampened. It may be argued that the output of small arms ammunition has not yet reached the maximum required for overseas requirements and a general reserve within the Commonwealth. I am not in a position to say what these requirements are, but I do know that the amount of ammunition allotted to units of our Home Defence Army for training in the use of the Vickers machine gun, Lewis gun, Bren gun, and the rifle is totally inadequate. I shudder to think what would happen if our Militia Forces were called into action with a half-baked knowledge of the weapons with which they are armed. Is there no way of speeding up the manufacture of not only small-arm ammunition, hut also rifles. I hope that the Minister for the Army will take a stand in this matter and remove the suspicion that our Australian Army gets only what is left over. Our Army, including the Voluntary Defence Corps, must be efficient, otherwise our defence is only a sham.

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