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Wednesday, 26 May 1915

Mr BOYD (Henty) .- There are a few matters that I would like to put before the Minister. Judging by the honorable member for Wentworth, the new way of making speeches is to ask a series of questions, and obtain information as you go along.

Mr Anstey - Not a bad way, either.

Mr BOYD - It is a good way when you have nothing to say. With regard to the Broadmeadows camp, I think that if the land were properly drained, the situation would be found as good as any in Victoria, unless one with sandy soil were obtained. It has been pointed out by those who know the site well that by proper draining it could be kept dry, though the soil, when wet, becomes a blue, sticky mud. That could be prevented by throwing down ashes, or gravel, or by making asphalt paths. According to the statistics of the life insurance societies, if you took any 10,000 persons in the community, you would find that at the end of twelve months 120 of them would be dead; but if you chose 10,000 persons whom a medical examination had declared to be perfectly healthy you would find at the end of twelve months that only fifty of them were dead. The men at Broadmeadows may be considered picked lives, and, according to the information of the life insurance societies, in the natural course of events, fifty of every 10,000 such men would die within a year. Therefore I do not find any quarrel with the Government regarding the site of the camp or its management. The questions that have been asked in this chamber, and the discussions that have arisen here since the war, have been prompted mostly by the complaints of constituents, who desire that the best shall be done for their sons who have volunteered for the front; but we must all sympathize with those who are saddled with the great responsibility of administering the affairs of the nation at this juncture. This is the first war worth speaking of with which Australia has been associated, the Boer war being a trumpery affair in comparison. Mistakes will therefore necessarily be made, and it is the desire of every member, in voicing complaints from time to time, not to find fault so much as to give opportunity for the correction of mistakes that have been made, and for the prevention of such as might be made. I have been informed on more than one occasion that men who have since left for the front were five months at Broadmeadows without being given practice in the firing of a rifle. The reply of the Department was that they would have time for that when they got to Egypt. Judging by the results at Gallipoli, they have been taught pretty well, and whether they learned to shoot here or in Egypt is of little moment so long as they are able to use their rifles with precision when in the fighting line. But I have been told that after having been months in training at Broadmeadows many of them did not know how to load and sight a rifle. Considering the large area of open country behind the Broadmeadows Camp, it should have been possible to provide rifle ranges there, if it were not convenient to take the men to Williamstown. I understand that there is very little shooting at the Williamstown butts during the greater part of the day.

Mr Jensen - There is a great deal. I have been there three or four times, and have always seen a large number there.

Mr BOYD - I believe there is more than there was, but, in any case, the men at Broadmeadows are not being sufficiently trained in rifle shooting. Lord Kitchener, when he desired to enroll territorial troops, declared that the first essential was to shoot, and to shoot accurately; and therefore we ought, as far as circumstances permit, to enable men to obtain the necessary training before they leave Australia. In all probability the reinforcements now going away will not have the same opportunity in Egypt for practice that the first contingents had; and it is necessary, before they leave, that they should, for their own preservation, have every opportunity to make themselves proficient marksmen.

Mr Jensen - They are being taught the use of the bayonet here.

Mr BOYD - Yes; and I believe they are doing very well, although I am not one of those who can swallow the statement that an Australian can put a bayonet into five men, one after .the other, and toss them over his shoulder. Even a man of the magnificent stature and evident strength of the Assistant Minister of Defence would not be able to perform a feat of that kind. There is another matter that is causing anxiety, though it is one for which, as a matter of fact, the Government are not responsible. I refer to the difficulty that the parents of our soldiers have in getting information about their wounded sons.

I can quite understand the Minister of Defence and his colleague, plied as they are with questions from all sides, urging that information should be given in this or that case, getting a little callous. The word " callous " is, perhaps, not the proper one to use in this connexion, and 1 would rather say that they must be getting somewhat surfeited with such questions and requests. It must be remembered, however, that the questions are prompted by the anxiety of fathers and mothers who have sent their boys to the front to fight for their country, and who find that, being wounded, their sons have been sent to some hospital we know not where. It is most natural that they should ask the parliamentary representative of the district to find out, if possible, where their wounded relatives have been sent, so that communication may be opened up with them. We have been informed by the Assistant Minister that every opportunity will be given, and is given, to transmit free cables to men who have been . seriously or dangerously wounded; and for this, of course, the public are very thankful. But I should like to see established at the principal base in Egypt some responsible official, or officials, whose sole duty it would be to find out to which country and hospital members of the different units have been sent, and communicate the facts to the Defence Department here at the earliest moment. This would enable parents, who so desired, to cable at their own expense inquiries as to their sons' welfare. This object might be attained by handing over the duty of collecting such information to some clerical branch of the Defence Force at the base; and I am satisfied that it would prove of great value to the public. Another matter to which I should like to call attention has to do with the prescribed height of recruits. The British Government, I believe, have reduced the standard from 5 ft. 4 in. or 5 ft. 4^ in. to 5 ft. 2 in., and we have in this community quite a number of men below the standard height we have fixed, who are anxious and competent to serve, and are as physically fit as many a man of greater height. In modern warfare a man of 5 ft. 2 in. ought to be quite as able to shoulder a rifle, fire a shot, and do the necessary marching, as any man of 5 ft. 4 in., or even 5 ft. 10 in.

Mr Archibald - What about using the bayonet?

Mr Page - Could the Minister of Home Affairs use the bayonet?

Mr BOYD - I was thinking of the Minister of Trade and . Customs and the Minister of Home Affairs, who are both

Undersized, and really I should not care to stand up in front of either of them armed with a bayonet. I am- quite satisfied that, so far as their strength in proportion to their height is concerned, they would be quite as competent to handle a bayonet as men of greater size. The smaller men have usually as much strength in proportion to their physique as have bigger men; and after some considerable experience of workmen in different walks of life, I find that the short, thick-set person can do as hard a day's work as his taller brother, and is generally more competent.

Mr J H Catts - Small men have not the same reach with the bayonet as have bigger men.

Mr BOYD - The main point in the use of the bayonet is strength; and from all we can gather from newspaper photographs of men in the trenches, it is not a case of one standing up against another, but rather that the bayonet is used in some other way. There is a story told of a man who, going to the front, asked a tailor to put a brass plate over his heart as a protection. In action he was the first man to run away, and in his flight he was shot. "When he fell down, thinking that he was about to die, he was in a dreadful state; but he suddenly realized that he was not so badly wounded as he thought; in fact, he found he was not wounded at all, and the only comment he made was that the tailor knew better where his heart was than he knew himself. Such a story, of course, could not be told of our men, and it certainly does not apply to men who are undersized. If there is any diminution in the applications for enlistment, the widest latitude should be given to enable men under what we call the standard height to join the reinforcements. A matter that can be discussed in a very few words is that of the censoring of news, and of information regarding the movements of troops. During the Boer war, the whole of the people of Australia knew every movement connected with the despatch of troops.

Mr Jensen - But did the Boers have a fleet?

Mr BOYD - -No. and I quite agree with the Assistant Minister that the policy that has been pursued by the Department was a correct and wise one, so long as there was the slightest danger of any of our troop-ships being followed or torpedoed on the ocean. At the present time, however, the enemy has not a single vessel floating on the water, and there is, therefore, no reason for the strict censorship that we are experiencing in this regard. The publication broadcast of every movement of our troops in Australia would be absolutely useless to the enemy. What could be more encouraging than the sight of troops going away, and being farewelled by their relatives and friends as they are leaving for the front? That used to be the practice always in Great Britain, and it was also the practice here. I happened to be on the railway pier as a privileged spectator on the occasion of the departure of the first contingent. There was a good deal of excitement when a picket Avas placed at the head of the pier. Thousands of people were at that send-off, and they broke through the picket like a flood of water rushing over a weir - and what harm was done? The regulations which may have been all right at the time they were adopted, ought now to be abolished, for there is absolutely no danger, and no reason why people should be shut off when troops are being placed on board ship. The public ought to have every opportunity of seeing the ships depart, and I think the Minister might well make a recommendation to that effect to his colleagues.

Mr Jensen - Do you not think some other consideration should be given to that matter? Does the honorable member think there are no enemies within the Commonwealth ?

Mr BOYD - But supposing there are, what can they do?

Mr Jensen - Well, we are taking every precaution, and we are going to continue to do so. If we allowed such reasons as that to influence us, we should be howled down from the other side.

Mr BOYD - There is absolutely no reason to-day why information should not be given as to the movement of troops.

Mr Jensen - I am talking about the risks of allowing people to go on board ship, or alongside.

Mr BOYD - They need not necessarily go on board ship, but they might go on to the piers and see them off.

Mr Jensen - They could do a good deal of damage from the pier.

Mr BOYD - But with regard to the movement of troops, the matter is talked about everywhere. I can tell the honorable member when the next contingent is going away. He never informed me; I got my information in the street.

Mr Jensen - Then what are you complaining about?

Mr BOYD - I am not complaining. I am only saying that, when information is so well known, it ought to be made public officially,, so that the parents or the people generally who want to see their sons or friends leave for the front, may have an opportunity of doing so. The Government can have no object in trying to keep the thing secret when they know they are unable to succeed. With regard to the censoring of news, I do not think there is the slightest doubt that news has been censored here after it has been passed by the British censor and published in the British press. The Prime Minister promised to look into the matter the other day, and make a statement to the House. He has not done so up to the present - probably he has not had any information from Home. In a community like this, democratic in spirit and temperament, the people are naturally anxious to get all the information they can ; and it is probably hard for our constituents to realize that Ministers are placed in such a position that they cannot give information broadcast; but there is a great difference between a situation of that kind and the timidity that exists in giving any information at all. I think the Minister, upon reflection, might strike a happy mean, and give information that would be interesting to us, and of no value to an enemy, even though he might be in our midst.

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