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Thursday, 7 December 1911

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill deals with two matters which, though important, will not, I think, be found to be contentious. One part has reference to the training and drills for senior cadets. Under the existing Act the training provided for is four whole days' drill, twelve half-day drills, and twenty-four night drills, and it is provided that day drills shall be of not less than six hours duration, half-day drills not less than three hours, and night drills not less than one and a-half hours. This was laid down by the Defence Act of 1909, and was not disturbed by the amending Act of 19 10. In July last this training, was put into actual operation.

Senator Millen - The Bill of 19 10, without altering the hours of drill, added to the number of days for training.

Senator PEARCE - No; not for the training of senior cadets. It left the period of training for them as it waslaid down in the Act of 1909. Since July last we have given the closest attention to the matter, and we have received letters from all over the Commonwealth complaining of cases of hardship, and suggesting that the drill is of too severe a character. From time to time I have instructed the Depart: ment to apply the provisions of the Act as leniently as possible in drafting regulations; We have endeavoured in every way to meet the objections raised to the rigorous nature of the drill and the conditions under which it is . carried out. But we have been forced to the conclusion that, in a very large number of cases, the time laid down for the drill is too long. This is especially the case in country districts where many lads have to walk as much as three miles to the place at which the parade is held. The drill is, of course, in the first year of a most uninteresting character. The lads have to go through squad drill, and there is little or nothing in it to appeal to their intelligence or to arouse in them a spirit of emulation. It is, therefore, rather monotonous for them. It is also very tiring to those who have not been accustomed to such training. To the trained man the drill is not tiring, as it becomes largely mechanical. But there can be no doubt that the training now required is very severe upon lads who may have had a long tramp, perhaps, after a long day's work, and have to travel some distance home after drill.

Senator Rae - Does the honorable senator not think that it must be monotonous for one who does know the drill to be drilled alongside one who does not?

Senator PEARCE - I do not think so, because those who know the drill go through it, to a great extent, mechanically. Then, when we are dealing with lads who are attending school, it must not be forgotten that the modern educational system imposes a very severe task upon boys. They have to go through a difficult school curriculum. They are often loaded up with home lessons and we find that when a lad attending school, has to attend a night parade, though it only occupies an hour and a-half , it is some time before he reaches his home. It may be asked why we did not think of all this in 1909 ; but it is only after experience we find that many things require alteration. The training now provided for was proposed by a previous Government ; but we are not sheltering ourselves behind that, since I admit that if we had been in office at the time, we should probably have done the same thing. There was then no experience of the system- to guide us. We have since had experience of its working. I have given the matter close study and attention. I have personally investigated many complaints, and have had reports made by officers explaining what has taken place in reply to complaints made by members of Parliament and private individuals. We have, in the circumstances, been forced to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to recognise that we have asked too much of the Senior Cadets, and to- alter the course of training provided for now, rather than to allow growing discontent, based upon genuine cases of hardship, to be fostered, which might eventually prove inimical to the principle of universal training. We have been fortified in this decision by the expression of opinion of officers responsible for the training, and also-officers of the Military Board, who have assured me' that' we can safely make the reduction in the hours of drill provided for in this Bill -without impairing the efficiency of the Senior Cadets when they are turned over to the Citizen Forces. It is proposed now that this training shall consist of drill extending over sixty-four hours in each year,, but cadets will be at liberty to attend voluntary parades in addition if they please. With this amount of training for four years, they can be turned over to. the Citizen Forces at eighteen years of age> and should be better trained and disciplined than is what we call a recruit to-day. That is all we desired to accomplish by the Senior Cadets' drill. It was intended to provide that a lad, on entering the Citizen Forces, should be the equal in discipline and training of a person who had gone through what is known as the recruit course. I am advised that this can be accomplished by sixtyfour hours drill per year. We have, therefore, taken power in this B;ll to reduce the duration of -parades for the Senior Cadets only. We do not deal in this Bill with the Citizen Forces at all. Their hours of drill will remain as they are to-day. We are, of course, wise after the event ; but it must be admitted that it was somewhat of an inconsistency to lay down the same period of training for a boy as for a man. It washardly treating the boy fairly. In the case of lads residing in the country dis.tricts, we are taking power, if necessary* to dispense with night drills altogether. Many of these lads could come ..into the parade-ground for a whole day drill with much greater convenience than they could come for two or three nights per- week,- or even at night-time at all. Many of them have to travel over bad roads, and in winter, in some, districts, it is a hardship that they should be compelled to attend, .drill at night. . This Bill will give the Minister power to proclaim that, in certain -districts, the drill may be done in half or whole day parades.

Senator Millen - Without interfering with the total hours- of drill ?

Senator PEARCE - That is so'; they will still have to do sixty-four hours drill in each year.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel SirAlbert Gould.- - The reduction proposed by the Bill is from seventy-two hours to sixty-four hours ?

Senator PEARCE - That is so.- There are some, parts of Australia where, - during certain seasons of the )'ear, there is experienced great heat, or almost continuous rain. It has been pointed out that, in such cases* to compel lads to 'drill for a whole day might involve' considerable hardship, and might, perhaps, be inimical to their health! A clause will be found in the Bill providing that .where a parade has been arranged, if a cadet does not attend, and in the opinion of the officer in charge the weather has been inclement, he will be at liberty to mark the cadet off as having attended the parade.'

Senator Millen - The cadet will miss that time altogether?

Senator PEARCE - Yes.

Senator Millen - Would it not be better to proclaim a close season, as it were?

Senator PEARCE - This is no doubt a concession; but I do not think it will be dangerous. We have a number of area officers, and it will be to their interests, and the interests of those under them, to make their lads as efficient as possible. That will be specially the case in future, because we are initiating a series of competitions - each company in a battalion against each other company - to see which is the best in the battalion ; the best in each battalion against the best in other battalions to see which is the best company in a brigade; the best in each brigade against the best in each district ; and the best in each district against the best in other districts to ascertain the best company in the Commonwealth. If the drill is not carefully attended to, a company may fail to get into these competitions at all, and that must count against the officer in charge, and militate against his promotion. There will, therefore, be every inducement to area officers to try to make their companies as efficient as possible. The other principal clause of the Bill is intended to bring it into conformity with provisions dealing with the infliction of punishment upon those who endeavour to disobey the law regarding compulsory training. At the 'present time, if a lad attending a parade disobeys legitimate orders, or does not behave himself, he can be taken before a magistrate and subjected to a penalty, and the penalty can be recovered. But if that lad does not come to parade - if he simply absents himself - we can proceed against him, and a penalty can be inflicted. The penalty, however, cannot be recovered until he reaches the age of eighteen years. The section containing that provision was inserted in the 1909 Act. It was an extraordinary one, and is practically rendering the Act in this respect nugatory. Recently, I asked the Inspector- General to pay some surprise visits to the training areas around Melbourne. He did so", and furnished me with a report. He found that 40 per cent. of the cadets were absent without leave. When inquiries were made amongst the area officers as to the reason for the great number of absences without leave, invariably they gave as a reason that the lads have got to know that we cannot recover penalties against them until they reach the age of eighteen. Consequently, they are beginning to absent themselves in great numbers.

Senator Millen - What is the penalty?

Senator PEARCE - The penalty is imprisonment in a "prescribed place," and the " prescribed place " is intended to be a barracks.

Senator Millen - So that they are all storing up a credit account of imprisonment.

Senator PEARCE - They are; but you cannot get a lad under eighteen years of age to look at the matter from that point of view. It is difficult enough to get a boy to think about present dangers, without expecting him to pay heed to what may happen to him four years ahead. The area officers tell us that the provision is worse than useless. In fact, it is almost an inducement to cadets to remain away from parade. The Act is very inconsistent in this respect. A boy who regularly attends his parades, but who disobeys an order, can be dealt with straight away. But a boy who stays away from drill altogether cannot be touched for four years. It really is a most inconsistent position. I, therefore, came to the conclusion that if this movement is to be successful, if we are to get these lads trained, we do not want to bring them into barracks for punishment four years hence. We want to give them their training now.

Senator Rae - Has the Minister any idea as to the total number throughout the Commonwealth who have absented themselves in this way ?

Senator PEARCE - I have not got the total returns, but I have figures with respectto the surprise visits of the InspectorGeneral. I think I am well within the mark in saying that, on that afternoon, there were over 30 per cent. of absentees at all the places he visited.

Senator Millen - I think the Minister said that the percentage went up to 40.

Senator PEARCE - In some cases it went up to 40. The average was somewhere about 30. In one case, there was only 7 per cent. of absentees, but that was the best instance of the lot. We do not want to take these lads into barracks. It is far better that we should be able to inflict punishment upon them now. We want to let the lads know that they must attend their drills, and that if they do not, the punishment will not be deferred for four years. It would be highly inadvisable to let them accumulate punishment, and then bring them into a barracks, where" they would be subjected to all the associations of barrack life, which I regard as harmful to lads of that age. There is one other provision to which I direct attention. One clause of this Bill relates to the interference of- employers with lads attending drill. This clause effects no alteration in principle, but merely in phraseology.- We are adopting the phraseology of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which is considered to' be better and more far-reaching. The wording is better. While we were dealing with the Defence Act, we thought that we might as well make the wording of this provision conform with that of the Arbitration Act.

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