Rearming school cadetsby Tony O'BrienNews Weekly
, July 28, 2001
Tony O'Brien discusses recent, and farcically compromised, initiatives towards reintroducing firearms training in Australia's schools.
From the early days of colonial settlement, civilian militia units and later school cadets were supported by government. Cadets were an important investment should a military crisis arise. In those pre-politically-correct days, teaching safe rifle-shooting and rifle-handling skills commenced in schools from the age of 12.
In the era after World War II, many Australian schools - both government and independent - had cadet units. Collectively these units delivered self-esteem, self-discipline, adventure and small arms training. On Fridays (the normal cadet day) until the 1970s, passenger trains brimmed with khaki-clad teenagers. School cadets participated in basic military drills at annual camps. Thousands of cadets, 15 years and older, fired Bren Guns, Owen Sub-Machine Carbines (OMC), Vickers machine-guns, and rifles in .303 and later 7.62 mm on army ranges.
Many former cadets enlisted in the Australian Defence Force, and served in Korea, Borneo, Malaysia, Vietnam and New Guinea. Former school cadets entered the regular army via the Duntroon, Portsea and Scheyville officer-training institutions. Others served as national servicemen and regulars.
With the post-Vietnam legacy, many cadet units were disbanded; and for those that survived, shooting and small arms training were marginalised and discouraged. Most city youths today could not carry a basic safety check to unload a firearm.
A recent government proposal to reintroduce small arms training and shooting for school cadets begs the question: Why?
News of the reintroduction of cadet rifle shooting startled the anti-firearm prohibitionists, Gun Control Australia and other activists to shriek litanies of imagined dangers should school cadets handle rifles. Behind the hysteria lie several reasons.
Australia's hemisphere is becoming unstable. Despite the peace treaty between Papua New Guinea and its province, Bougainville, that region is a smoldering tinderbox. Closer to our mainland, the threat of an Indonesian political implosion or secession in West Papua could drag Australian forces into an unwanted and protracted engagement anywhere within the inner region.
While the Defence Discussion Paper (June 2000) proclaimed that "New Zealand is an ally for Australia", someone forgot to tell NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark, who has reduced her country's defence forces to a peace-keeping role. Canberra has finally comprehended that Australia is alone in the region and must protect its vital interests, not relying on the mythical regional defence compact with others, but on Australians. East Timor proved that unsafe firearms procedures were a critical problem for the Australian Army. The number of shootings due to sloppy safety and handling skills and the resultant woundings was unconscionable
. A few 40-minute lessons with a rifle do not deliver safe and proficient handling of arms to one who had previously never handled a firearm. Hence, the Government direction to the Defence Force to investigate the training of cadets in skill at arms.
The usually forgotten but primary role of the Federal Government is to ensure the defence of Australia from armed attack. Without the cadets, from where will those platoon commanders, the trained personnel and those with basic firearm skills be drawn? Servicemen from the Vietnam era are in their 50s and getting older.
Ironically, many of these dads and grandfathers are members of politically incorrect organisations like the Sporting Shooters, State Rifle Associations, and the pistol clubs. Collectively these "old diggers" have more skills and experience in small arms and training than many in Australia's Defence Force. Continued Defence Force pacification and government neglect has depleted the forces of skilled personnel, of ranges and other facilities.
The Government's obsession with its bureaucratic National Firearm Agreement, its appeasement of Labor State governments, and its fear of anti-gun opposition to the program produced a politically sensitive compromise. The Defence Department proposes that for ceremonial occasion, cadets parade with "innocuous" weapons: solid plastic moulding of rifles.
There is now a flurry of government activity seeking out thousands of these non-guns. This nonsense could only originate from those who have never drilled with or handled a rifle on parade, for nobody who ever participated in such drills or witnessed armed troops on parade could suggest such a farce.