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Thursday, 7 December 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I understand that the Minister of Defence desires to get this measure through to-day, and for that reason, I propose to make a few remarks upon it now. I shall deal first with the matter which the Minister touched upon towards the close of his speech, when he referred to the absentees, those . unwilling defenders of their country. The Minister very properly stated that the section now in operation was in the original Act of 1909. Without look ing at that section, it must be obvious from his statement that there was an oversight >n the drafting, with the result of making the section operate as was never intended. Therefore, there can be no debate as to the desirableness of making an amendment. It is, however, a matter of some regret to me to find that so large a percentage of our lads have taken advantage of a loophole of this kind.

Senator O'Keefe - We were all young once.

Senator Gardiner - Is not the honorable senator delighted that the lads are so smart ?

Senator MILLEN - It is a species of smartness that, no doubt, appeals more to Senator Gardiner than to me.

Senator Gardiner - The honorable senator is fairly good at finding out loopholes.

Senator MILLEN - I take it that that compliment is meant in a jocular way. There is no one who can be so jocular as Senator Gardiner, when he likes, except his colleague, Senator Rae. This defect having been discovered, the Senate will, of course, help the Minister to remedy it, I turn to another matter mentioned by Senator Pearce, the question of the hours within which these lads should be trained. Of course, as he stated, we were moving in the dark when the original measure was passed. It is only by experience tha't we can be guided as to the direction in which amendments should be made. Is there any reason to suppose -that the medical examination of these recruits is all that it ought to be. That is- a very important factor, for this reason: whilst a certain period of training might be considered sufficient for youths declared to be medically fit, it might be too stringent, and might impose too severe a strain on lads who were not so physically capable. I hope that the medical examination in this country is quite on a par with that in older countries-. The results of the medical examinations speak volumes for the physique and stamina of young Australia, because of the quite abnormal percentage of those declared fit - that is, as compared with similar examinations in Great Britain and Germany - but I have some fear that those examinations are rather lax. I sincerely hope that I am wrong. It is a matter to which the Minister should give some attention. He might make inquiries as to whether these lads are being passed through in a more or less perfunctory way, or whether they are really subjected to that searching medical examination which ought to be at the basis of compulsory enrolment. With regard to the one other matter which the Minister mentioned - that with regard to relaxing the regulations in districts where climatic conditions render it advisable - the honorable senator himself recognised the danger of the provision in the Bill. It seems to me to be stretching leniency to ari extreme, when you allow inclement weather to be taken into consideration to the extent, not of giving the cadet the option of postponing the time of training, but of exempting him altogether. I do not quite know how frequently these inclement days may give rise in the imagination of cadets to a. desire to absent themselves from drills. Seeing that according to the Minister's own figures so large a proportion of them show a desire to absent themselves whenever they can' find a reasonable excuse for doing so, I do not know to what extent they will be moved to find excuses for their absence if we allow inclement weather to be taken into consideration. It is easy to see that this concession may be used to cut down die period of training- - sixty-four hours a year - to such a point that a cadet would really be inefficient at the end of his term. I suggest the advisableness o of trying to devise a regulation which- would put a limit to this exemption. The regulation might provide that a cadet should be forgiven for absenting himself three or four times on account of the weather, if he made up for those absences on other occasions. Otherwise the deduction from his drills would be a very serious one, and might result in a boy not being the equal of his comrades in efficiency .of training. I think the Minister might -consider the desirableness of such a regulation as I have outlined. I certainly would put a limit to it. If, by reason of bad weather, a boy is not able to turn up to drill well and good. But if that goes on three or four times, and he is allowed to escape his drill, he will lose a certain portion of his value as a factor in the defence of this country. Senator Rae. - A boy who lived in a very wet district might lose half his training.

Senator MILLEN - If a boy persuades himself that the weather, on a particular occasion, is altogether unsuited for a free young Australian to go out and drill in, he can also persuade his area officer, who may be- living some few miles from the residence of the boy, and, therefore, cannot speak with' authority on the presence or absence of passing storms at the time. The boy might use these opportunities in such a way as- to cut down his hours of training very considerably.

Senator Rae - And he would probably go fishing on those days.

Senator MILLEN - He certainly would if he were a member of the Rae family, lt does seem to me that the Minister is opening the door too wide here. I urge upon him that there should be some limit. If- it was found that a boy, by reason of inclement weather, was accumulating absences to an extent beyond a fourth of the time - that is thirteen hours out of the total period-^1 he ought to make it up on some days when the weather was more favorable. Unless the Minister does that, I fear that while he is stopping the 40 per cent, of absentees from' one cause he will' simply create 40 per cent, of absentees from another. The Minister was quite right in saying that there should be no suggestion of imprisoning a boy at the end of his cadetship. That would not make up for the lost training which he should have had. By the time he reaches the age when he can be passed into the ordinary forces he should have been thoroughly trained as a recruit. No imprisonment for neglect of that training would make up to the Commonwealth that which the boy had missed through absenting himself from his drills. For the rest we can only regard this Bill as one of many which we shall have to pass as experience discloses weaknesses in our defence legislation. From time to time we shall have to deal with measures of a similar character. Therefore, we can regardthis as one of a series of measures which experience will dictate, and which we can deal with without any party criticism at all. I am sure that the Senate will be only too pleased to assist in passing these very necessary amendments of the law.

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