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Thursday, 22 August 1912

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - I am almost disheartened at the position regarding rifle ranges. It is almost an impossible position. A rifle club is formed and a range is selected. The range is sometimes on private land, but, generally, the club tries to get Crown land for the purpose. When the club applies to the Defence Department to be gazetted, an officer is sent up to see whether the site is, or is not, suitable. On his return he makes his report, and if he says that the site is suitable the Department tries to obtain the land. If it is private land we have to ask the Home Affairs Department to resume the site, but if it is Government land we have to ask that Department to approach the State Government. We have to wait till the State Government grant us a permissive occupancy before we can do anything at all. After that permission has been granted the Home Affairs Department proceeds tq get out the plans, and construct a range, or the Defence Department may take the initiatory action.

Senator Guthrie - By that time the men have got sick of waiting.

Senator PEARCE - By that time a number of those who formed the rifle club have become disgusted and given it up. It is easy to see the difficulty, but the trouble is to find a way out. We cannot compel the State Departments to act more quickly than they are prepared to do.

Senator Givens - For defence purposes you could take possession of the land at once.

Senator PEARCE - For defence purposes, we could; but I do not know that we could do so for a rifle range. In any case, we do not care to exercise the power of land acquisition, because all that we want is a permissive occupancy. If we had to resume the land, it would be very costly to the Commonwealth.

Senator Needham - Is there a desire on the part of the States to assist you in that direction ?

Senator PEARCE - I hope so; though I should like to see more evidence of it. Seeing that with the modern rifle a lot of land is needed to cover the danger zone, it would be impossible to provide the requisite number of rifle ranges by means of acquisition, because the cost would he prohibitive, lt has been suggested that the Defence Department might take on the work of constructing rifle ranges without the intervention of another Department. That is a mattei on which I am conferring with the Minister of Home Affairs. It would, at any rate, confine the work to two Departments, instead of three. At present it is not always easy to say which Department is the one to blame for any delay. I am convinced that some different system will have to be evolved before we can prevent the delays which now occur. The present system is intolerable, and undoubtedly does a great deal to discourage riflemen throughout the Commonwealth.

Senator SAYERS(Queensland; [5.20]. - I met a number of riflemen at Yungaburra, and also the secretary of the rifle club. I understood that an officer of the Defence Department had been there, and that the rifle range for which the club had applied was cleared by the men. It is a scattered district, and although thirty or forty young men are prepared to put their hands in their pockets and help the Government, up to the present time they have not been able to get a satisfactory statement from the Department. The Minister has pointed out the difficulties with which he has to contend, but I think that if this matter were tackled in the right spirit something would eventuate. We want people to prepare themselves to defend the country. These long delays thoroughly disgust the men, and cause some of them to throw up the whole thing. That is not a good spirit to create in the country. I shall bring this matter under the Minister's notice later, and I hope that he will be able to do something before all these men get disgusted with the way in which they are treated.

Senator Pearce - Will you send the case on to me ?

Senator SAYERS - I will. Senator ST. LEDGER (Queensland) [5.22]. - I wish to express some satisfaction with the Minister's explanation on this very important matter. I hope that he will press for expedition in dealing with rifle ranges, because, from the reports of the Defence Department in regard to military training, I am fast coming to the conclusion that of the two, the more effective weapon for the defence of Australia in the hour of danger will be the rifle clubs.

Senator McColl - They will be our salvation.

Senator ST LEDGER - I believe they will be found, in the long run, one of the real sources of our great strength in the hour of danger. I have no sympathy with a State Government which interposes obstacles in the way of the Minister of Defence realizing quickly all the possibilities of rifle shooting by the grant of rifle ranges ; and, so far as my little influence will be useful, I shall assist him in every possible direction.

Senator CHATAWAY(Queensland) £5.23], - I wish to assure the Minister ot Defence that, from the point of view of defence, the Opposition will endeavour to help the Government as far as they possibly can. These Estimates include several items dealing with the supply of horses in the various States. On page 8 we find an item of £3,500 for stabling and other buildings for military horses in New South Wales; on page 15, an item of £3,000 for stabling and other buildings for military horses in Queensland; on page 16, an item of £24,000 towards the cost of barracks, quarters, gun-parks, pharmacy, stores, stabling, and other buildings for military horses in South Aus'tralia ; and on page 20, an item of £5,000 for the acquisition of land for agistment of military horses in Tasmania. All these are new votes. Roughly speaking, the sum of £35,000 is provided on these Estimates for the stabling of military horses. I am inclined to think that it is wise for the Government to take steps to breed " gunners " and horses of a lighter type, for military purposes. But I fear we are being misled to some extent when we are invited to authorize an expenditure of £35,000 merely for the stabling of military horses.

Senator Needham - I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable senator is rambling from page to page of these Estimates instead of confining his remarks to the question which is immediately before the Chair.

The CHAIRMAN - T would point out to Senator Needham that Senator Chataway asked me whether he was at liberty to refer to items on these Estimates in advance of those with which we are dealing, for the purpose of illustrating his argument. That practice has been followed previously, and I think it tends to shorten discussion.

Senator CHATAWAY - In following the course which I am pursuing I am merely anxious to conserve the time of the Committee. The sum of £35,500 appears upon these Estimates for the stabling of military horses, and it impresses me as being rather an excessive amount, unless the Government intend to undertake, not merely- the stabling, but the breeding of horses to a greater extent than they have indicated. One cannot overlook the fact that the American Government have recently made large purchases of horses in Australia for " gunners," and that they are breeding these animals on the highlands of the Philippines. I obtained my information from the men who purchased them and from American officials, who assure me that first rate "gunners" can be bred on the highlands of the Philippines. We might, perhaps, follow the example of the Americans by breeding horses on the Barklay Tableland, and the Creswell Downs. There we could breed horses which would make good " gunners," or a lighter type which would be suitable for cavalry purposes.

Senator Findley - Does the honorable senator suggest that the Government should do that?

Senator CHATAWAY - If they did that they would be doing better than they are by spending £35,000 merely for the stabling of military horses. I note that it is proposed to establish stables in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania. Why is it not intended to provide them in South Australia and Western Australia ? The Government have given ns no indication of how they intend to fill these stables. I would remind the Minister of Defence that, no matter what breeds of horses may be crossed, not more than 20 per cent, of the foals will come up to the requirements demanded of them. I know that the Minister of Defence favours the establishment of horse-breeding depôts If we are going to expend £35,000 upon the stabling of military horses, do the Government intend to develop regular horsebreeding stations?

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