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Thursday, 19 July 1906

Mr SPEAKER - Does the honorable member second the motion for its second reading ?

Mr JOHNSON - Yes, sir. I am responsible, with the honorable member, for the introduction of the Bill. I have no desire to unduly occupy the time of the House in discussing it, because the honorable member for Melbourne Ports has made out a sufficiently strong case to appeal to all thinking men. It must be admitted that the men who abstain from alcoholic stimulants usually possess a much better constitution than do those who become steeped in alcohol. The effect of the use of alcohol is to reduce the stamina of men and to undermine their constitutions. The other day I was met with the objection that the abolition of military canteens would deprive those who are now employed in them, and who are not engaged in military service, of their occupation. I have no desire whatever to see any man displaced from his employment, but I do not think that the passing of this Bill will have that effect. Certainly, I' should like to see those who find employment in military canteens direct their energies into some more beneficial department of industry, in which they would accomplish more good for themselves and fortheir fellow men. That the existence of these canteens is a real evil, nobody who has visited military canteens in encampments and barracks, under certain conditions, and at certain times, can doubt. It may be that of late years the extent to which the vice of drunkenness prevails is not so great as it was. For that we have reason to be thankful, but we should endeavour as far as we can to remove from military men the temptation to employ their leisure in having recourse to stimulants. I have here an extract from Light, a Sydney newspaper, in reference to the death of a man, which was alleged to have been caused by Sunday drinking. The paragraph is as follows: -

Death from Sunday Drinking.

An inquest was held by the City Coroner concerning the death of a carpenter lately residing in Paddington, on Sunday. The deceased had been drinking on Saturday night, and on the following morning visited the canteen at the Victoria Barracks, where it is said he had a drink or two. He subsequently went to a wine shop in Dowling-street, and had about three glasses of wine. He became very ill, and so serious did his condition become that he was taken to the Sydney Hospital, but on arrival at that institution life was pronounced extinct.

The Coroner said that it was evident that the deceased, who was drunk on Saturday night, was supplied with liquor at the canteen and wine at the shop despite the Sunday Liquor Act. He found that death was due to alcoholism.

Why are not the dispensers of this " liquid damnation " proceeded against for doing this " hurt to one of his Majesty's subjects " ? It is time that such doings should be put a stop to.

I am not prepared to say positively that this man was supplied with drink at the canteen on the Sunday in question, but the coroner, who doubtless had all the evidence before him, seemed to believe that he was. It may be that the drink so supplied did not accelerate his death; but, on the other hand, there is a strong probability that it had something to do with it. If the law of the land prohibits the sale of intoxicating drinks in public houses on Sundays, it should certainly apply to military canteens. At the same time, one must recognise that intoxicating liquor, whether imbibed in excess on Sunday or any other day, is equally injurious. There seems to be an impression amongst a certain class of the community that if drink be. not supplied in military canteens, there will be a strong temptation for soldiers to break barracks, and that they will be supplied, perhaps, with inferior drink in low-class hotels.

Mr Hutchison - If they broke barracks that would be an offence for which they would be punished ; so that they would not do so very often.

Mr JOHNSON - Quite so. I was about to say that there might be some cases of the kind, but I -do not think that such an argument has any general application. The rules and regulations of the service would militate against such a practice, and such cases, if they ocurred, would probably be isolated ones. I understand that the trouble is that after the duties of the day are over, the men, for want of other forms of amusement, have a tendency to spend their leisure in the neighbourhood of these canteens ; that they do so merely for the purpose of passing their idle hours in convivial company, and that they are thus encouraged in the practice of drinking. Some young fellows from the country, who join the forces, are often led into temptation in that way. I am assured that they join the forces as raw recruits, with no special liking for alcohol, but that they go into the billiard rooms, which are usually adjoining or in the proximity of the canteens, and that the penalty of losing a game, by use and custom, is that they must "shout." It is with the practice of " shouting " that the .evil of intemperance begins. It is said that the majority of the offences committed in barracks are traceable to the fact that the offenders have first become inflamed with alcoholic stimulants. I have here a statement by a military man of some years' experience, whose name I am not at liberty to disclose, but he is a man of some authority. In reply to my request that he should state in writing what he considered to be the evils associated with the sale of intoxicants in canteens, he wrote me a letter, and I propose to quote that portion of it which refers directly to those evils. He says -

The disadvantages of the institution are that young fellows, as recruits from country districts, in joining mingle with those from whom it is their constant endeavour to secure as many free drinks as possible. Kind acts are done to gain the confidence of the young soldier with- the sole intention of bringing him to the bar counter to satisfy their thirst. As a rule, they are pressed at first to take some small lubricant, and which I know in some cases has been extremely distasteful ' at first, but occasional indulgence gradually transformed the youth into a confirmed drinker. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but I am speaking of the majority that fall a victim to the evils derived from the liquor bar. All places of recreation are either adjoining or in very close vicinity to the bar. which is highly detrimental to the welfare of any young fellows. Moreover, in my opinion if there were no canteen young men would go in considerably more for educating themselves intellectually, and naturally would live in greater harmony. An artilleryman at the present lime requires far clearer intellect than in days gone by, for the science of modern armament requires all the skill and care that a sober man can put into it, without his wits being deadened through the influence of liquor. Fully twothirds of the crime among soldiers originates directly or indirectly from the sale of liquor, as every facility is offered to procure it. It is very difficult for a person so inclined to stop drinking at the right moment, for they have a good time when having a round of drinks, and do not feel the effects till called upon for duty on parade.

These are the statements of one who has lived for years in military barracks, and who may therefore be regarded as competent to express a matured opinion on the question. In the circumstances we ought to pay some regard1 to complaints which come from persons occupying such positions. T do not think it has been shown at any time that alcoholic stimulants are necessary to promote efficiency and general usefulness in connexion with military service, but numberless instances of very serious results accruing from the dispensing of stimulants within barracks have been brought under our notice. Sufficient has beer, said tq convince all reasonable-minded men that it is undesirable that canteens for the sale of intoxicating liquors should be fitted up ir. military barracks, and that being so, I shall content myself with the statement that I have very much pleasure in seconding the motion for the second reading of this Bill.

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