Before the First World War Australia was the only English-speaking country which had a system of compulsory military training during a time of peace. The legislation for compulsory military training was introduced in 1909 by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, and was passed into law in 1911, under the Labor government that succeeded Deakin's.

The legislation provided for three levels of training: boys 12–14 years old had to enrol in the junior cadets, 14–18 year olds enrolled in the senior cadets, and 18–26 year olds had to register with the home defence militia, the Commonwealth Military Forces. Exemptions were given to those who lived more than five miles [eight kilometres] from the nearest training site, those passed medically unfit, to resident aliens and theological students. Those who failed to register for military training were punished with fines or jail sentences. Many boys did not register for their military training, and between 1911 and 1915 there were 34,000 prosecutions, with 7,000 jail sentences imposed.

During the First World War, two referenda had been held over conscription for overseas service, causing enormous bitterness in the community in general and within the Labor Party in particular. This was partly why Labor swung around to oppose compulsory military training and abolished it when it was elected to government in October 1929.

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