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Thursday, 19 July 1906

Mr LEE (Cowper) . - We cannot pass legislation to meet a case such as that referred to by the honorable member for Wentworth. We cannot prevent the soldiers in the Victoria Barracks, Sydney, from having easy access to public-houses, but we can at least deprive them of some of the facilities which are now offered to them to obtain intoxicating liquors. I am very glad that the Government are supporting the Bill, because I believe that it will tend to the benefit of our soldiers. Captain Mahan, the great American naval authority, is decidedly in favour of the abolition of liquor from military camps, and it is a matter for regret that, although the United States Senate passed a law abolishing canteens, the President did not give effect to it. I quite agree with the honorable and learned member for Corio that intoxicating liquors should be entirely excluded from military encampments, because if we prevent the privates from obtaining drink, we should place a similar embargo upon officers.

Mr Ewing - The honorable member must recognise a great difficulty would attach to completely carrying out his desire in that direction.

Mr LEE - I admit the difficulty, but I think that we should aim at meting out equal treatment to officers and men.

Mr Mauger - This is a Bill, not to prohibit, but to prevent the Government from dispensing liquor.

Mr LEE - I should like to see the measure go further, but I admit that it takes a good step forward. I am glad that the Commonwealth Government have shown a strong disposition to discourage the sale of intoxicants, but I do not think that we should be quite satisfied until we have cleaned up our own canteen. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports made a very able speech, and I trust that the Bill will be passed. We know that alcohol has a most demoralizing effect upon our soldiers. Lord Roberts, when he was in South Africa, wrote to the people of England and Australia begging them not to give drink to our young men when they came back from the war. It is well known that 65 per cent, of the crimes committed in connexion with the Army are directly attributable to drink, and I feel sure that we shall bring, about a great moral improvement and take an important . step forward if we pass the measure now before us.

Mr. McCAY(Corinella) [3.52} - It may be within the recollection of some honorable members that this matter came up for consideration during the few months that I had the honour of being Minister of Defence. At that time I undertook to amend the regulations relating to canteens, with a view to ascertaining if certain admitted evils might not be more effectively coped with. These regulations were drafted, and, I may say, in passing, met with the approval of the various temperance bodies and others who were interested. I must admit, however, that they have not achieved as fully as I should have liked the object with which they were framed. I confess, further, that, being strongly in sympathy with the movement to prevent canteens from becoming a source of temptation, I have to consider whether, in view of the fact that regulations which practically go as far as regulations can without absolutely prohibiting the sale of liquor, have failed, we are not forced to take the decisive step . of prohibiting the sale of liquor in canteens, and thereby placing, the members of our soldiery, whether permanent or citizen, under the same conditions as the rest of the community with regard to the purchase of liquor. Of course, it is known that no other section of the community are exempt from the. operation of the State licensing laws in the same way as are our soldiery in regard to military canteens. While I have no desire to unfairly force ray views upon others, I have felt constrained to consider whether there is any way in which we could guard against the mischiefs that Ave fear - more, I think, than the mischiefs that exist - ' other than that proposed by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. I must confess that I see no alternative between enforcing regulations that will not accomplish all that we desire and abolishing the system of selling liquor in canteens. I do not think that the Australian Army, either permanent or citizen, consists of a host of hard drinkers, as the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports might lead the casual listener to think. The great majority of the men in our Forces, like the great mass of the community, are a very sober, law-abiding set of people. There are among soldiers, as among other classes, some men who take more than is good for them; but, speaking, of them as a body, I have no hesitation in saying, after a very lengthy experience of citizen soldiers, that their temperance is very noticeable. As an officer commanding a regiment, I have had something to do with canteens, and I frankly admit that the Commanding Officers will be relieved of a certain amount of anxiety and responsibility if the matter of dealing with canteens is taken out of their hands. At the last encampment I did not have a canteen in connexion with my regiment. I did not want it myself, andI did not think my regiment wanted it. On the whole, the weight of evidence shows us that there is no choice between the risk of exposing some members of the forces to the temptation to drink unwisely, and abolishing the danger altogether. After having tried an experiment which met with the approval of those interested, but which did not prove so satisfactory as one might have hoped, I propose now to support this measure.

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