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Thursday, 26 November 1914

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I admire the conciliatory spirit in which the Minister has met the Committee. He has requested honorable senators to give expression to their views as regards these training areas. A reduction of the radius proposed from a training centre would, of course, involve an increase in the cost of our compulsory training scheme, but I should prefer that the cost should be increased than that we should continue the hardship at present inflicted upon many boys of having to travel a distance of 5 miles from their homes to the training centre. I do not think that any boy in Australia should be asked to travel 5 miles from his home to the training centre after he has completed his day's work. What it means is that he is obliged to travel 5 miles to the centre and 5 miles back to his home, and this is exclusive of the physical exercise he is called upon to perform in connexion with the training, and of the walking he may have had to do in connexion with his day's work. As a boy employed in a coal mine, I had to walk lj miles to the pit head, and when I reached the bottom of the shaft I had to walk %\ miles to the face. I had to walk the distance back again to reach home.

Senator Watson - And the honorable senator would be walking all the time in the mine if he was a wheeler.

Senator NEEDHAM - That is so. No boy could be blamed for objecting, after he has finished a day's work, to walk 5 miles to the training centre and 5 miles back to his home under our compulsory scheme, no matter how loyal he might be. The reduction of the area might not lead to very considerable increase in the expenditure if the Minister and his officers set to work to prepare a proper scheme for a redistribution of the existing areas. Time and again we require a redistribution of electorates in accordance with the changes of population, and it cannot be supposed that training areas fixed three or four years ago will remain without alteration. We have to recognise fluctuations of population in different districts. Our Australian youths, and our Citizen Forces generally, have also responded nobly to our call upon them, since no fewer than 163,000 are under arms to assist the Empire in the present crisis. We should not in this matter quibble about a little extra expense.

Senator Bakhap - There is also the question of efficiency.

Senator NEEDHAM - I desire to see each unit as efficient as possible. I have no wish to coddle our boys. I believe in teaching them to be manly in every respect, but it is possible to ask them to do too much. With respect to the State Commandant having discretionary powers under the amendment proposed by the Minister, I hope, with Senator Bakhap, that the Minister will not give way on that point. I should be glad if his example in the matter were followed by those in charge of other Departments of State. There is far too much centralization, and I should prefer to see the officers of every principal Commonwealth Department in each State given a little more power than they have to-day. At present all roads apparently lead to Melbourne, and even members of Parliament have to wait for a very considerable time before they can secure definite replies to their correspondence with the various Departments, because it has to go through so many channels. It has been suggested that the State Commandant, being a soldier, would insist upon doing certain things; but I see no reason why strict instructions from headquarters should not be sufficient to meet that objection. I am prepared to vote for a reduction of the distance from a braining centre to the boundary of an area from 5 miles to 3 miles, in order that our compulsory training scheme may be made as easy for our boys as possible.

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