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Thursday, 19 July 1906


Mr CROUCH (Corio) . - I am glad that the honorable member for Wentworth has put 'before the House the view that injury may be done to our soldiers by abolishing canteens, and- compelling them to go for drink to the public houses in the neighbourhood of the barracks. When, in 1903, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports moved the insertion in the Defence Bill of that year of a provision for the abolition of military canteens, I opposed his amendment, because I thought that, although the carrying of it might conduce to temperance inside the barracks, it would probably lead to .an increase of drinking outside,. At Queenscliff, where the great majority of the men are of the best and most sober character, there are seven hotels, and I feared that, if those men who take drink could not get it within the barracks, they would go outside for it. The amendment was defeated by two votes, but, not long afterwards, some of the men from Queenscliff saw me about the matter, and said that the views which I had expressed were net those of the majority of the permanent men there, and one or two of them, at my request, saw the honorable member for Melbourne Ports on the subject, and asked him to persevere in his opposition to the canteen system. Furthermore, within the last two or three days, I have received from a non-commissioned officer at Queenscliff, who knows what he is writing about, a letter in which the following passages occur : -

I see that Mr. Mauger's Bill comes on for second reading on the 19th. I have sounded a good many and listened to the others here, and I can say positively that if a vote as to the abolition of canteens or otherwise was taken here 75 per cent, would vote for its abolition, and that would include almost, without excep-tion, all the heavy drinkers in the regiment, the feeling amongst these old topers being that if it was taken away from their elbows, as it were, they would have a chance of squaring up. At present it is alongside them all day, placed there by official sanction. I have during my time here, on several occasions, seen young lads of 19 or 20 land here hardly knowing the smell of liquor, and in twelve months' time develop into heavy drinkers, to the ruination of their careers. Tt is argued that if canteens are abolished that soldiers will go out of barracks to get it, and, getting drunk in public, will disgrace the corps and cause crime. It is not so. Men, as a rule, start drinking in barracks, then, wanting more, an'd realizing that barracks is no longer a safe place, go into the town and get drunk there, whereas if they had not had a start in barracks there would have been no trouble. Ninety ner cent, of the crimes here are caused directly or indirectly by drink, and I am quoting the opinion of all the senior N.C.O.'s I have asked about the matter when I say that the abolition of a.vnteens will mean the almost entire abolition of crime. The man in barracks has tea daily at 5. p.m. He has no means of getting anything more to cat till next morning. If hot coffee, sandwiches, &c, were provided in barracks at a small fee in the evenings it would be greatly appreciated.


Mr Kelly - In Svdney the proportion of alcoholic drinks sold in the canteens is yearly becoming less.


Mr CROUCH - The honorable member for Melbourne Ports has stated that in the United States a grant is made to provide non-alcoholic beverages for ihe soldiers in barracks, and similar provision might well be made in his Bill. These men have not homes of their own, and larders to which they can go. Their meals are regulated by the clock, and if in the evenings the- cannot get refreshments, such as are furnished by the temperance canteens instituted by Lord Roberts and the Army Temperance Association for the soldiers in India, they are forced by their inclinations to go outside, where they are exposed to the temptations to which the honorable member for Wentworth has referred. The writer continues -

It is asked - " If the canteen, with its profits, is to be abolished, where is the money for the upkeep of sport, &c, to come from?" The total amount paid to the sports at present are cricket or football club (in season) per year, ^20; rifle club, per year, £20; total, ^40. This is the highest it has ever been. The canteen fund for eleven years paid Lieut. Rielly ^60 per annum for coming to Queenscliff once per week and tutoring the R.A.A. Band. Major Hawker cancelled this arrangement; one of the few good things he did. The members of the Sports and Rifle Club each donate is. per month to their respective clubs. A small increase on this amount would meet the loss caused by the withdrawal of the canteen grant. If the members of the R.A.A. want sport they should pay for it just as civilians do. The regulations compel a single man to live in barracks and make it his home. That being so, it is the duty of the authorities to see that recreation rooms, library, and billiard rooms are properly equipped and furnished, and not as at present left to the canteen fund to maintain. At present a man- pays is. over the bar in order that about 1/2 d. of it may be spent in his interests. There is no doubt that the presence of canteens on military stations and in encampments lowers the moral tone of such places, and no one realizes that fact more than the men themselves.

In further support of the position I am putting, I wish to refer to a case which occurred at Queenscliff some years ago, and may be remembered by some of the Victorian representatives, the accused being found guilty of manslaughter, because he was drunk at the time the act was; . committed. In that! case a man named Pollock, while drunk, shot a. comrade named Briner. I have here the depositions of the case, and will read sufficient to show that the drinking commenced in the canteen. The first witness, Thomas Francis McGregor, being sworn, stated1 -

I am a gunner in the Victorian Permanent Artillery, Queenscliff. I knew deceased Briner He was also a gunner. I remember being in his company on Thursday, 9th inst. I met him in the canteen in the barracks. "I had been in company with Pollock and Gunner Muir that evening. We left the barracks between S and 8.30 ; returned about 9.30. We had some liquor - about five drinks - at different hotels. Pollock had beer. On returning we had a drink at the canteen. I saw Briner there. I then left and went to my room.

That evidence is corroborated by that of other witnesses.


Mr Bamford - Did the men drink at the canteen before going out ?


Mr CROUCH - They, met in the canteen, and afterwards had five drinks round the town, finally returning to the canteen for another drink. As an instance of the abuses which have existed in connexion with the canteen system, I wish to read a copy of a list of prices sanctioned by Major Hawker for the Queenscliff canteen. It is as follows: -

May, 1905.

R.A.A. Canteens (Victoria.)

Prices to be charged to sergeants' mess or officers. - Sergeants' mess and officers may obtain the undermentioned goods at the prices placed against each item on signing a requisition for same. These requisitions must be attached by the canteen steward to his stock-sheet, otherwise he will be debited with the ordinary sale prices.

 

The ordinary price-list is the price charged to the men. The first column is the price charged to officers; but I am glad to say, through complaints made by me last year, there is now only one price-list.


Mr Ewing - Is that an absolute copy of the list, or a comparative statement of prices made as the result of a calculation?


Mr CROUCH - It is a copy of the official price-list for officers' and sergeants' messes, and the second column shows the ordinary prices charged to the men. The existence of such a list in itself is an argument for the abolition of barrack canteens. With regard to the abolition of encampment canteens, while I have not seen at the annual encampments abuses such as have been mentioned. I do not think it too much to ask the militia and volunteers to do without alcoholic liquor forthree or four days, with the object of benefiting the permanent men. I think the Bill should be amended so that it will apply to both officers and men. At present it is proposed to provide against the sale or dealing in beer, wine, or intoxicating liquors in military camps. If we are going to prevent the men from purchasing liquor in camps, we should not permit any liquor to be brought in for consumption at the messes of officers or non-commissioned officers. It must be made penal to have liquor upon the ground.


Mr Salmon - That could be done by regulation.


Mr CROUCH - The whole purpose of the Bill could be achieved by regulation for that matter. We should prohibit the introduction of liquor into camps under any conditions. I believe in meting out equal treatment to all ranks. I do not approve of permitting officers to have liquor while privates are precluded from obtaining it. I acknowledge that, in the light of experience, and the testimonyafforded by those who have been brought into actual contact with the canteen system, I have had to change my opinion upon this question. Although in 1903 I was opposed toany amendment of the Defence Act which aimed at the abolition of canteens, I am very glad that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports has brought forward this measure.







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