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Friday, 16 July 1915

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I desire to say a few words in reply to Senator Millen's' statement regarding the instruction in rifle training of our Expeditionary Forces. A good deal of capital has been made out of a statement made by me - 1" saw no reason for concealing the fact - that two battalions were sent to Egypt without having undergone their musketry training in Australia. But I gave the reason then, and that was that the transports were here; they were costing us about £800 or £1,000 a day, and the men could be put through their musketry course in Egypt, where they were to be sent to complete their training. The General Officer Commanding was informed that these men had not done their field musketry, and the arrangement was that they were to be given this training in Egypt. Ill-advised persons - for what reason Heaven only knows - have, on that statement, been making the assertion that our men have been sent to the front without musketry training. There is absolutely no warrant for that statement, which is incorrect, misleading, and damaging. I cannot understand what actuates people who, when they get certain facts, at once commence to see if they can twist them into harmful statements. Senator Millen himself used the words that these men were sent to the front. When I corrected him be said he meant Egypt; but I would remind honorable senators that Egypt is not the front. As a matter of fact, all the troops, including even the divisions with which Senator Millen himself had a good deal to do, were sent to Egypt to complete their training. That there is a difficulty in giving rifle instruction I am prepared to admit, but we are endeavouring to meet it in one way. I have given instructions that members of rifle clubs who are proficient in the use of the rifle shall be utilized to the fullest extent in imparting instruction to the troops. Another thing we have had to do, and which I very much regret, is to recall 12,000 rifles loaned to the rifle clubs, our object being to have them fitted with magazines, because there will be a period when we shall require these rifles to give instruction to the men of the Expeditionary Forces in our camps, and who are going to the front. I have no doubt that that will draw an indignant protest from many rifle club members; but I have already made the statement public, so that they may know why the rifles are being withdrawn. In this matter of rifle, instruction there is something more to be done than merely shooting on a range; and for the information of members I might indicate what the course of musketry really is. Before a visit to the range at all, such instruction as target indication, distance judging, care of arms, &c, is imparted to men in the camp. Target indication means the indication of a target invisible to the naked eye. On such occasions, the instructor, with glasses, picks out, say, a tree which is visible to the naked eye, and from it indicates the invisible target to the men. The above being completed, the men are instructed on a miniature rifle range. Honorable senators who have read about the camps will know that since we shifted the camp to Seymour we 'have provided miniature rifle ranges there, so that the men may get their A B C of musketry instruction without delay. Then, following that, instruction is given on an open range, where grouping, application, rapid firing and snap shooting are taught. Grouping means gaining familiarity with a rifle, and application means the direction of bullets to the target; while rapid firing means, as the objective, fifteen hits a minute; and snap shooting means shooting at a disappearing target. That is the course which the men are put through. It is not, as Senator Millen put it, to allow them merely to blaze away so many rounds. It is a progressive course, with . a definite end in view, and in this way the men become familiar with the rudimentary elements at the stage I have indicated.

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - And if ' a man does not obtain a certain standard, he is put back, and has to go through it again ? '

Senator PEARCE - Yes. Until he has completed that course, he is not classed as efficient.

Senator Watson - The men do not get to the front until they are actually efficient ?

Senator PEARCE - No. They are depot troops when they go into training. That is to say, they are not organized into brigades until they are taken from the dep6t.

Senator Grant - In Egypt?

Senator PEARCE - No, here in Australia. When we are organizing a brigade, we take the men from the depot troops, and they do not go into the brigade until they are classed as efficient. If a man is not efficient, he will be left at the depot until he is.

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - No man goes into the firing line until he is thoroughly efficient?

Senator PEARCE - No.

Senator Maughan - In any case, Egypt may be regarded as a depot.

Senator PEARCE - Yes; and until the men are efficient they are not drafted from the depot into the brigade.

Senator O'Keefe - There are a number of men who will never become efficient. Are they sent to the front?

Senator PEARCE - No, those men will then probably be drafted into the Army Medical Corps. With regard to the question of the effect of recruiting on the labour market, and the forthcoming wheat harvest, I do not approve of the idea of recruiting farmers, and then sending them out again from the camp to attend to the harvest. We would not gain anything by that. It would mean bringing them into camp for a month or six weeks, clothing and feeding them, and arranging for their transport, and then sending them home again until the harvest was over, when they would be brought into camp once more. They could not be reckoned, in the meantime, among the troops at our disposal. We have plenty of men coming forward in the camp to give us our necessary reinforcements.

Senator de Largie - You could give these men from the farming districts some training in the meantime.

Senator PEARCE - Any man who is really anxious to secure training can get it by joining rifle clubs. That is being done by thousands in Australia to-day. I recognise the immense value of the coming harvest to Australia, but some things must be left to the State Government activities. There is on the Commonwealth Government an obligation to arrange that the surplus wheat and wool is carried over seas, and that the freight is not excessive. If we do that, we shall do something effective for the farmer. It is a big thing to do, and it will tax all our resources and energies to do it. The State Parliaments, with their Labour and Agricultural Departments, are best fitted to cope with the harvesting of the crop. They can organize labour for the purpose, and I believe they will do it.. I understand they are making preparations now for the purpose. Senator Millen touched on one of the most important groups of industries when he referred to the metal industry. Australia is one of the greatest producers of the raw material in metals, and one of the smallest of the manufactured article. It is one of the biggest exporters of the raw material, and one of the greatest importers of the manufactured article. The Commonwealth Government, in accordance with the pledges made at the opening of Parliament, set about an investigation of this question, and found themselves handcuffed by the world-wide monopoly governed by German influence and controlled by German men and money. Germany had outwitted every nation on earth in its monopolizing of the metallic trade. We had to do in our Enemy Contracts Bill what neither Great Britain nor any of her Allies have done. By that measure we nullified, so far as Australia is concerned, the contracts which were crippling and making futile our efforts. But the product has been sold hitherto over-seas, and the contracts extend over-seas, where we have no control over them. We have asked the British Government to take the same action as we have taken here. They have not done so. We are not to blame for that. If we are to commence the manufacture of these things here, we must have some guarantee that the producers of the mineral here are in a position to cooperate effectively with us in the manufacture. That is what we are endeavouring to obtain. The Attorney-General has made this his particular work, and is dealing with it very effectively. It cannot be done in a day, a week, or a month; but we are determined that we shall do everything we can to establish the manufacture of these secondary industries, which are dependent on our metallic industries. The Munitions Committee now sitting is also taking evidence, and making certain propositions in this connexion. We find that there are certain manufactures of copper required for shells. Their manufacture has never been undertaken in the Commonwealth, although other kinds of copper have been made here. There s;»sms to be no reason why they should not be made here, and we are endeavouring lo find out whether the people who produce copper manufactures will undertake to put in the necessary plant to make them also. There are any number of works in the Commonwealth which could be extended to begin the manufacture of these things. We have submitted to the Chamber of Manufactures a list of articles that we have always had to import. Such things as pocket knives seem to have been beyond the capacity of Australians to manufacture. They have always been imported, although there has been a duty on them. After the war began, we found it impossible to supply our troops with the pocket knives required. An Australian manufacturer set to work, and now makes just as good1 a knife as we have been importing, so that we are now able to supply our troops with an Australian pocket knife. There is quite a list of articles, small in themselves, but still amounting to a respectable sum in the aggregate, which, for instance, in the Defence Department had always to be imported. The local article could not be obtained because it did not exist. Many of these are now being made by people in Australia, who find, much to their own surprise, that they can make them -quite as well as they are made elsewhere. We are paying for them, perhaps, more than we 'did before, but we are getting a good article, and that principle can be extended. Senator de Largie referred to the appointment of Colonel Pethebridge as Administrator of German New Guinea. In my opinion it was a very fortunate appointment, because, up to the time of his appointment, we had nothing hut trouble there, and we have had no trouble since. His administration has been a thorough success.

Senator de LARGIE - I did not question his administration.

Senator PEARCE - I know. I do not think German New Guinea, or the whole of the Islands, could be successfully administered at present from one centre. We have not annexed German New Guinea, nor could we do so until the end of the war. It will have to be determined between the Allies at the end of the war to whom that country shall belong. Great Britain has given her word that the disposition of territory shall be left for settlement amongst the Allies afterwards. German New Guinea is only under military occupation. Papua, on the other hand. belongs to us. It is carried on under an Act of the Commonwealth, and is, therefore, under an entirely different system of government. Under military occupation the law is that you maintain existing institutions, and it would net be advisable, while the difference in the systems of Government continues, to have the one Administrator administering the two territories.

Senator de Largie - Could not Judge Murray, who is a military man, administer German New Guinea just as well as Colonel Pethebridge ?

Senator PEARCE - Certainly, if he was taken away from Papua; but his place there would have to be filled, and I do not know what advantage we should] gain by that.

Senator de Largie - The advantage that Colonel Pethebridge would be left in the position that he is best fitted to fill.

Senator PEARCE - That is an argument against Colonel Pethebridge having been sent there. I understood Senator de Largie to argue that the two territories could have been administered by the one person.

Senator de Largie - Judge Murray could have been sent there, as it is only a temporary position, so far as we know.

Senator PEARCE - Then we should have had to fill Judge Murray's position temporarily in Papua.

Senator de Largie - A civil official could do that work.

Senator PEARCE - No doubt Colonel Pethebridge's services would have been very valuable to us at the Defence Department, but I must pay Mr. Trumble the tribute of saying that he has filled the position of Acting Secretary quite as well as any other gentleman could have filled it, not even excepting Colonel Pethebridge.

Senator de Largie - If that is so, then Colonel Pethebridge has been superfluousall through.

Senator PEARCE - That is not a fair inference, because Mr. Trumble was Chief Clerk, and is now Acting Secretary, and another man has been moved up to his place. I do not say that we have not lost by Colonel Pethebridge's absence, but Mr. Trumble has discharged the duties of Acting Secretary as well as any man

Gould be expected to do. I ought to be the first to complain, if anybody, at the taking away of a senior officer, but I say that, in the circumstances, the right thing was done, and I .should be the last to advocate the making of a change, at any rate, during the period of the war.

Senator de Largie - We can only conclude that there were too many officers there in high positions, if they can ,be done without during the war.

Senator Keating - Are there not the same number there now ?

Senator PEARCE - There are more. We have brought in temporarily a senior officer from the Home Affairs Department. Senator Lynch referred to the action of the Home Affairs Department is excluding powellised karri timber-

The PRESIDENT - Matters of detail con' be dealt with more effectively in Committee.

Senator PEARCE - I would ask the honorable senator to raise the question in Committee, when Senator Russell will be able to deal with it.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a first time.

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