6th Parliament · 1st Session
The President took the chair at 11.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– On the last sitting day I asked a question relative to the placing upon the table of the instructions recently issued to the press through the censors. The Vice-President of the Executive Council replied on behalf of the Minister of Defence,and said he could conceive of no objection to such a course being followed. The Leader ofthe Government in the Senateis now present, and perhaps he is in a positionto deal with the question.
– These instructions are, of course, confidential, but honorable senators can see them at any time.
– At the Barracks.
– I ask the Minister of Defence whether the Government have ascertained the number of young men who left the Commonwealth in a hurry after the commencement of the war? They took saloon passages.
– Order ! The honorable senator is making statements, and not asking a question.
– I am asking whether the Government can inform the Senate as to the number of young men who left this country in a hurry after the commencement of the war and took saloon passages, and whether these men will be called to. the colours ? If. there be no response from them will the Government treat them as ordinary deserters?
– The honorable senator has given me somewhat of a poser. We should first of all have to discover whether the young men referred to left in a hurry or not. I may say that for some considerable time past no person of military age could leave the Commonwealth without a passport.
– Except as a member of a crew of a vessel, and some have signed on and left the Commonwealth in that way.
– I could not give any information as to the number who left the Commonwealth before the regulations requiring passports were brought into force.
The following papers were presented: -
Memorandum by Foreign Office relative to the Treatment by the German Government of the civil population of Belgium.
Public Service Act 1902-1915. - Promotions. - Department of Trade and Customs. -
Reports of Public Works Committee, together with Minutes of Evidence relating to the proposed Alterations and Additions to the Customs House, Sydney ; and the Water Supply Scheme for the Flinders Naval Base, presented by Senator Lynch.
– I do not know whetherI am strictly in order at this stage in drawing attention to a certain matter, but, if not, you, sir, must accept my apologies in advance. There is in another chamber certain accommodation, presumablyreserved for honorable senators, and Ishould like to know whether steps can be taken to insure that that accommodation shall be so reserved. Members of the public are shown into the gallery supposed to be reserved for honorable senators, and when honorable senators wish to attend to listen to debates of the other Chamber they are frequently in the unpleasant position of having to ask an attendant to make room for them, and this may involve the expulsion from the gallery of private citizens, who may be there quite innocently. The position should be cleared up, and we should know whether there are seats in the House ofRepresentatives reserved exclusively for honorable senators or not.
– Honorable senators are generally themselves most to blame for showing visitors into the gallery reserved for them.
– The matter to which Senator Millen has referred has not escaped my attention, nor is it now brought up for the first time. It has been a matter of serious comment amongst honorable senators during almost the whole of the time I have been a member of the Senate. Some two years ago I took occasion, in accordance with what I. believed to be the opinion of honorable senators at the time, and upon representations made by some honorable senators, to interview Mr. Speaker with regard to the matter. He promised then that seats would be reserved exclusively for the use of members of the Senate. I found, and Mr. Speaker has also found, that honorable senators are themselves the worst offenders, because they have brought along their friends and put them in seats reserved for honorable senators. They should refrain from doing that, because, by putting their friends into those seats, they may bedepriving other members of the Senate of an opportunity to use those seats and to listen to debates in another place. The seats are reserved for honorable senators, and not for the friends of honorable senators, and if that interpretation were strictly adhered to, a considerable amount of trouble would be avoided. In any case, I shall again take occasion to interview Mr. Speaker on the subject, and see whether an arrangement cannot be made by which even the friends of honorable senators shall be excluded from the senators’ gallery. Of course, we have no control over the arrangements made in another place except by making representations through Mr. Speaker.
.- Will you also consult Mr. Speaker at the same time on the necessity of some control of the front of Parliament House to prevent the approach of people taking part in such a demonstrationas occurred last night?
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice-
Privates,1s. 3d. per diem.
N.C.O.’s, 2s. l1d. per diem.
C.O.’s, 6s. 3d. per diem?
– The answers are -
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government will consider the advisability of so shaping the scope of inquiry of the Industrial Commission about to visit the United States as to enable a special investigation to be made into industrial conditions in the sub-tropical portion of that country, particularly in regard to the condition of European labour in that area?
– The matter will receive consideration.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
Will he lay upon the table of the Senate the evidence and finding of the inquiry recently held at Port Darwin into the dispute between Dr. Jensen and Dr. Gilruth?
– The answer is -
The report of theRoyal Commissioner will be laid upon the table. A copy of the evidence will be laid on the Library table as soon as it is available.
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Will the Government consider the advisability of getting all the funds subscribed by the public to Red Cross Societies and other organizations for the relief of soldiers placed under the management of one central body, which shall be responsible to and under the control of the Federal Government?
– The answer is-
This matter is at present engaging the attention of the Federal Government. The matter has been the subject of communication with the State Governments with a view to common action.
asked the Minister of
Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are -
What has been the cost of establishing the Military Hospital atRandwick, in New South Wales?
What is the cost per bed for maintenance?
How many beds are provided?
– The answers are -
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will he take steps to endeavour to bring about some system of uniformity between the States and the Commonwealth as regards the schedules used in connexion with the Income Tax Acts and Land Tax Acts?
– Consideration has already been given to this matter, and a conference between State and Commonwealth officers is to be heldas soon as it can be arranged.
asked the Minister of Defence; uponnotice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
When will the South Australian and West Australian ends of the Trans-Australian railway be linked up?
– It is anticipated about April of next year; actual date of linking up dependent upon regular supplies of material, which have been affected by war conditions, and subject to work not being delayed by industrial disputes.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as early as possible.
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Will he consider the advisability of placing before the Cabinet the necessity of legislating against trading in war medals and other decorations, in order to prevent imposition?
– The answer is-
Section 42a of the War Precautions Regulations reads as follows: - “ 42a. ( 1 ) If a person shall, without the written authority of the Minister, or of some person authorized by him in that behalf, sell, barter, exchange, trade in, give away, or in any manner whatsoever dispose of or deal in any uniform of the Defence Force, or any badge, accoutrement or equipment, or regimental or other distinctive mark, or any colorable imitation of such uniform, badge, accoutrement or equipment, or regimental or other distinctive mark, he shall be guilty of an offence against the Act.
Any person who offers, or exposes for sale, any article as aforesaid, shall be guilty of an offence against the Act.”
It is considered that war medals and other military decorations are covered by this regulation.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
Whether it is the intention of the Government to stop all expenditure at the Federal Capital Site and Territory till the end of the war?
– Matters have progressed so far that it would not be in the interests of economy to stop all expenditure, but what shall be done with the Federal Capital Territory is engaging the attention of the Government.
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
What action has been taken to prevent recruiting sergeants from dealing with party politics in their addresses?
– Instructions have been issued to commandants to inform recruiting sergeants that they are not to make any reference to party politics at recruiting meetings. The Secretary of the State War Council in each State was instructed to warn all recruiting sergeants that they were not to deal with the question of conscription.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
What steps does the Government intend to take so as to guard against a scarcity of sugar, owing to the strike of cane-growers and miller? now in operation in Queensland?
– It is impracticable to supply the information asked for.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Externals Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers are -
The quality of the oil that has been received from the field has been declared by the Federal Analyst to be of the highest standard.
– I desire to withdraw notice of motion No. 1 for a return as to lighthouse-keepers.
– I object. I want this information.
– There is an easy way out of the difficulty for Senator Guthrie. All that he has to do is to give fresh notice of the motion and subsequently to move it. But the motion now on the business-paper is the property of Senator Needham until it has been moved. Only then would it become the property of the Senate, and until then it is the prerogative of Senator Needham to do what he chooses with it.
– All right. I will give fresh notice of the motion on the next day of sitting.
Debate resumed from 30thAugust (vide page 8396).
– In order that the statement I made on Wed nesday as to the policy of the Ministry in regard to the prosecution of the war may be brought formally before the Senate and become the subject of debate, I lay a copy of it upon the table, and move -
That the paper be printed.
There is room, of course, for a considerable difference of opinion as to how the present emergency should be met, but I think there can be room for little or no difference of opinion as to the desirableness of that emergency being met.
– And the necessity.
– And the necessity of meeting it. The public, with the tacit consent of Parliament, and, I believe, with the approval of an overwhelming majority of the people of Australia, have, from time to time, offered additional units of troops to Great Britain in the prosecution of this war. I have never seen a single protest against those troops being offered. Until the receipt of the recent cable from the Army Council, the Government of the United Kingdom had never, on any occasion, asked for a single soldier to be sent from Australia. . It is also to be noted that in their request the Army Council do not ask us to add a single additional unit to those which this country has voluntarily placed in the field. They have never asked us for military assistance. But we havegiven certain military assistance. They do not now ask us to increase that assistance. The sum and substance of their cable is that, as we have placed certain military units in the field, those units should be kept up to their full strength. That is the outstanding fact of the present situation. The Army Council cable makes a definite request that 32,500 men shall be made available during the month of September, and later on I shall show that the Commonwealth is able to comply with that request, as it is also able to comply with the subsequent request for an increase of the monthly reinforcements from 12,500 to 16,500 for a sufficient length of time to enable us to take other measures to see that those numbers are maintained in the future. I say that, because it seems to me that the strongest charge made against the Government proposal is that it does not meet the situation, that it wastes time, and the inference to be drawn from such criticism as has been levelled at it is that there will be a period during which Australia will not be equal to the task of keeping her troops in the field up to strength. I hope to show, before I have concluded, that that is not the case, that under the Government proposal there will be a guarantee that we shall be able to keep the units in the field up to their full strength, and that that proposal will meet the request of the Army Council, and will involve no loss of time. But, in addition, it does recognise - and I do not doubt that this is unpalatable in certain quarters - that Australia is a Democracy, and that the people have a right to be consulted before any vital alteration is made in an existing policy which they have approved, and which has been placed upon the statute-book. If anybody concedes that, then it is obvious that there are only two ways by which the people can be consulted in the present crisis. The two alternatives presented are a general election, either of one House or of both Houses, and a referendum. The obligation, therefore, is laid upon those who oppose the Government scheme either to say that they believe this step should be taken without the authority of the people, that men should be sent overseas without their consent, and by force of law, or, if they agree that the people should be consulted, to lose any logical right to oppose the Government scheme. If they do not admit that the people should be consulted, any alternative that they can bring forward will cause a greater loss of time than will the Government proposal. It is obvious that if we proceeded by way of a Bill to alter the Defence Act to make the soldiers called up under it available for service overseas, it would be the subject of a fierce debate in either House. It is fairly obvious that it would lead to at least an election of the House of Representatives, and possibly to an election of both Houses. If the latter, it would mean a delay of at least four or five months or longer, in order to comply with the conditions of the Constitution with regard to a double dissolution.
– Will you not have to pass a Bill in any case even after the referendum? The referendum will not be binding, will it?
– I shall not pit my legal knowledge against that of the honorable senator, but he will find that if the people indorse the proposal through the referendum, the Government and Parliament will be prepared to take any risk of illegality.
– The one Bill ought to contain the two provisions.
– We will discuss that when we discuss the Bill. In debating the principle of the Government proposition, I do not want to be led into side issues as to whether it is legal or illegal, or contains everything that it should or should not contain.
– It was not a question of legality. I merely asked whether you would not have to passthe Bill you spoke of after the referendum.
– Will the honorable senator consider what he would have to do? He would have to bring in an amendment of the Defence Act, and pass it through the House of Representatives. Unless he is politically blind he must see that that could not be done in a few weeks. It would then have to pass this Chamber, and if the honorable senator talked to a few members of the Senate he would find that it would not have a very speedy passage here. It might be shipwrecked.
– Have you an assurance that they would give it a speedy passage after the taking of the referendum?
– If there are members in either House prepared to stand between this Parliament and the people, and to refuse to allow the question to go to the people, their blood will be upon their own head. I should not like to stand in their shoes at the first election thereafter at which they are candidates. But, to take up the position of refusing to allow the people to vote on this question is quite a different proposition from opposing a Bill which was never considered at the last election. I heard of no candidate on that occasion who told the electors that, if returned, he would be prepared to amend the Defence Act to make soldiers available for overseas service.
-Colonel O’Loghlin. - We had no mandate at the last election for that.
– That is so, and, therefore, a member in that position would be perfectly justified in taking whatever action he thought fit, and neither party could complain of his action, because such a Bill is on neither platform. Neither party put it before the electors, and, therefore, members of both are perfectly free to use any legislative machinery within our Standing Orders to prevent its passage. The journals outside which speak for Senator Shannon say there is a majority in the country for conscription, and that, therefore, honorable members should bow to the’ will of that majority, but they destroy their own argument by saying that time may be lost because the referendum may be defeated. The two things are not compatible. If there is a majority of the people for compulsion the referendum will be carried; if not, it will be lost. But if there is not a majority of the people in favour of this course then this Parliament has no right to carry that law. The position in detail is as follows: - The Army Council requests that we shall provide 32,500 troops in September, and 16,500 for each subsequent month. The number- for September is to be partly made up from the 20,000 in the divisions training in England. We have provided five divisions; four are in Prance at the front, and one is in England not yet fully trained. There is also a Light Horse Division in Egypt and a number of details, which we will leave out of consideration because they are to be retained in Egypt. It is proposed by the Army Council to make up any deficiency of reinforcements by utilizing the troops from the division in England, which is technically the Third Division, but which, for convenience, I will call ‘ the Fifth, because it was the last formed, and to replace those in that division by men coming forward from Australia. We have then to find 32,500 men in September, 16,500 in October, November, and December respectively, or a total of 82,000 troops to the end of the year. In J January February, and March we shall have to provide at the same rate, 49,500, or a total from now to the end of March, 1917, of 131,500. Those who have been talking about delay apparently do not know that we have a large number of troops already in training, some of whom have almost completed their training, and are embarking from week to week. Their numbers, exclusive of the four divisions in France, and the Light Horse Division and details in Egypt, are as follows: - Number in camp in Australia, 43,512; number in camp in England, 44,511 ; on the water, 15,000; total, 103,023. Deduct Fifth Division- in England, 20,000, and estimated wastage, 10,000, this leaves a net total of 73,023 available for reinforcements. These figures were compiled two days ago, and represent the number then available, assuming that not a single soldier enlisted afterwards. We had then available, as I have shown, 73,023 men more or less trained.
– Does the wastage cover the period before the men go into actual fighting ?
– We have estimated the number of men who will probably, from various causes, drop out before they actually enter the firing line. It is obvious that recruiting will not stop. It is fairly safe to say that it will increase. Assuming that it did stop altogether, I have shown that, with the Third Division temporarily utilized, we can comply with the request of the Army Council up till and beyond the end of December. The Third Division, in any case, would probably not take the field this summer, because it was the last division raised. It was raised in Australia, whereas the other two divisions were raised in Egypt.
– I presume that when you are speaking of the Third Division, you really mean the Fifth.
– Yes; because, as I have said, it was the last division raised. We promised the Army Council that we would form two divisions from the troops in Egypt, and the other, or Third - I will now call it the Fifth - Division, was formed here. It was sent to Egypt, and afterwards was transferred from Egypt to England. It has not been long in England, and the men comprising it have not yet completed their base training. Therefore, it is extremely improbable that, in any circumstances, it would have gone into the field this summer at all. Now it is proposed by the Army Council that that division, so far as the reinforcements are concerned, shall be added temporarily to the pool in England, and that, in view of the enormous drain that has taken place owing to the heavy casualties recently, reinforcements shall be taken from it as well as from the other 23,000 reinforcements already in England. The requirements for this month under the Army Council’s request are 32,500, and then 16,500 per month right on. It has been laid down hitherto that all troops must have three months’ training in Australia before embarkation. It is proposed to continue this course; but, if the necessity arises, there is no reason why troops should not be sent away with two months’ training in Australia, mud be allowed to complete their training on arrival in England. This has already been done in many cases in order to fit in with the shipping arrangements..
– But that does not shorten the time of training before they are allowed to take the field.
– Certainly not. The men complete their training in England. Obviously, it is not advisable to take men straight off the transports and send them to the front, because a voyage on a transport takes from eight to ten weeks, and it is found that they require further training after disembarkation. Under the terms of the cable from the Army Council of 2Sth August, the Fifth Division now in England will be drawn upon to make up any deficiency in reinforcements pending the arrival of increased numbers from Australia, which, under the modified scheme - this is an important point - will commence to arrive in January and February, if the appeal of the Government is responded to, as I believe will be the case. Wow let me set out in detail the demand by the Army Council, and show how this estimate we have of numbers will affect the pool in England month by month. Including the Fifth Division, there are 44,500 reinforcements now in England, and I assume that only 7,000 reinforcements now on the water will arrive during this month. As a matter of fact, this is a very conservative estimate. The number will probably be nearer 10,000 or 12,000 ; but we have put the number at the lowest possible figure. Now, as I have shown, there will be 51,500 available as reinforcements from the pool, and the demand for September will be 32,500. These will not be taken on the first of the month, but will be spread over the whole month as the casualties occur. When that draft of men has been taken out of the pool, there will be 19,000 left at the end of September. In October further troops will be on the water, end one month’s normal reinforce ments under this scheme will bring to England 12,500, making the total in the pool 31,500. In October the demand will be 16,500, leaving in the pool 15,000. For November the reinforcements arriving in England will be 12,500, bringing the pool up to 27,500, and the demand, 16,500, will leave a balance of 11,000. In December the normal reinforcements will number 12,500, making the total in the pool 23,500. The demand will be 16,500, and the balance available at the end of December will be 7,000. In January, under this scheme, 12,500 will go forward, bringing the pool up to 19,500; the demand will be 16,500, and the balance in the pool at the end of January will be 3,000.
– That is based on the wastage being the same as it has been in the past.
– The wastage includes men who become sick in camp or are discharged for various reasons, but it does not refer to casualties.
– Will the Minister make this point clear ? He speaks of 12,500 normal reinforcements going forward in January. Is that on the assumption that we shall have obtained additional recruits then?
– I am speaking of the numbers that will arrive in England.
– But the Minister is speaking of 12,500 men for January. They are not in camp.
– They are, or they will be. The honorable senator is leaving out of consideration the fact that in September there will be some enlistments.
– They are not now in camp. I do not say that we shall not get them.
– I had better complete the statement I intended to make. The honorable senator asked a question, and then cut me off in the middle of my reply. If he will consider the figures I gave at the outset, he will see that I pointed out that the demand up to the end of December is for 82,000 men, and that we have in camp in Australia, in England, and on the water, and deducting wastage and the Fifth Division, 73,000 men. Including the Fifth Division, we have 93,000 men. As the demand, -.ip to the end of December is- for only 82,000 men, the honorable senator will see, if he deducts that number from 93,000, that we shall still have a balance left of 11,000 men.
– By temporarily wiping out the Fifth Division.
– Of course. There is no way of avoiding that, because we cannot annihilate time in sending troops to England. If we could do that it would be possible to find a much speedier method of dealing with the question than that which the Government propose. I point out that, no matter what troops are raised, they cannot arrive in England except after the lapse of a certain amount of time. Recognising that, the Army Council say, ‘ ‘ We propose to take temporarily from the Fifth Division certain reinforcements, and we ask whether you are prepared to fill up the gap.” They know that by filling up the gap from here the troops cannot be in England before January or February. I have shown that, including the Fifth Division, we shall have a surplus in the pool at the end of January. I come now to the question whether the arrangements proposed by the Government are adequate for the purpose.
– You finish at the end of January with 3,000 in the pool?
– And there will be 12,500 per month additional to the end of February ?
-There will be 16,500; the normal reinforcements number 12,500.
-Colonel O’Loghlin. - We shall have sufficient men under present conditions until the end of February ?
– No; we shall not.
– Assuming that no recruits enlist from now up to the end of January, 3,000 men will then remain?
– The honorable senator overlooks the fact that if men did not enlist until the end of January, we could not get them to England until four or five months later. Honorable senators must take into account the time that must elapse between the date of the troops leaving here and the time when they will be available to man the trenches.
Senator Lt.-Colonel O’Loghlin.There will be a surplus of 3,000 men at the end of January under existing conditions ?
– We anticipate that during February we shall land in England 16,500 men, giving 12,500 normal reinforcements. We say that under our scheme from February on we can land 16,500 per month if we commenced to call men up now at the rate of 16,000 per month. We say that we can do that and replace the Fifth Division, which will be temporarily drawn upon for reinforcements. On the 1st October we shall appeal to the manhood of Australia for 32,500 men required. If that number will not have come forward during September, we shall bring into operation the compulsory sections of the Defence Act, and call up 32,500 men, plus any wastage, that may be necessary, and put them into camp to be trained. We say that these men will be available in England from the end of January.
– That is provided the referendum is carried in favour of compulsion.
– In October the referendum will be taken, and at the end of October the referendum, laving been taken, the Government will be authorized or not to send oversea the men who will have been called up. If they had not the necessary time for training here, they may be given the necessary training at the other end; but from the end of October the men can be sent away. I want to refer now to criticism of another character, and that is the criticism of those who are opposed to any proposal to send additional troops away. It has been said that they are not required, and that we are asking too much.
– When you speak of additional troops, is that in contradistinction to reinforcements?
– I mean additional reinforcements. There are people who say that the Government are asking too much, as well as people who say that we are not doing enough. I direct attention to the summary of casualties that occurred in Europe up to the 19th July, at the beginning of the big offensive. The summary is compiled from the casualty lists concluding with the issue on the 6th of last month. During that time there were killed in action, 1,410; died of wounds, 592; died from other causes, 105; missing, 989; wounded, 9,535; ill and injured, 667; and prisoners of war, 16. This represents a total casualty list for that period of 13,314. For the latter eleven days of that period the casualties were 6,743. Practically half the casualties in that hig offensive occurred in the last eleven days. Of course, some of the men have been only slightly wounded, and will be able to resume duty. What little gratification may be obtained from the figures is that a much larger number than in the past have been only slightly wounded. That casualty list is an effective and crushing reply to those who say that the Government do not need to .do anything. I point out to them, if my words can reach them, what is the alternative. It is that the battalions now at the front, nominally 800 strong, must come down below that strength. I put it to those who object to the Government doing anything to say whether that is a fair proposition for the men who have offered their services and are fighting for this country. A military unit is like a football team. No one will suggest that it is a fair thing in a football match to put one team into the field under strength to contend against another team at full strength. Military organization plays an important part in the scheme of war. The General Staff, I dare say, very often find it impossible to keep an accurate check as to how a unit stands in the matter of numbers. It. is supposed to be holding a certain portion of the line. It loses a certain number of men, and they must be replaced. The British Government is responsible for the holding of a definite portion of the line, and British troops are not mixed up with French troops. It is obvious that if the British people will not replace troops killed, wounded, or lost, the number of men spread over the line must be decreased, and their chance of a successful defence of the front intrusted to them must be lessened. This is true of the British troops, and it is equally true of the Australian troops. They are not mixed up with other troops. They are holding a certain definite area of the line. As our battalions become weakened by losses it will be seen that if we do not reinforce hem we place upon the shoulders of those who remain a greater and more awful burden than they have hitherto had to support. I ask those who say that we should not send more men away to consider what this means. The men at the front are our brothers, our fellow citizens, who have offered their lives and their all for this country. Surely there is an implied obligation upon this country to those men to see that the military unit of which they are a part shall be kept up to its full strength. Can we escape that obligation? I do not think we can. There are those who say that the voluntary system will supply all the men required. We have to consider whether it will or not. The Government have stood solidly for the voluntary system. I direct the attention of honorable senators and of the people of this country to the position which the Government have taken up in this matter. They have stood up against adverse criticism. Is it not a fact that, before the Prime Minister left for England, one section, at any rate, of the press of the country and many members of this ‘ Parliament were demanding conscription? Is it not a fact that whilst a stream of recruits was coming in the Government said “No; we stand by the voluntary system.” I said, on an occasion which must be within the recollection of honorable senators, that if we had had more men coming in we could not have made them available. That was absolutely true. We had not the necessary shipping for their transport. Moreover, up to tue month of May, there were sufficient men coming into camp to provide for the monthly reinforcements. Up to that month there was, therefore, no necessity to consider any other measures for the supply of men than those already in operation. In the month of June there was a big decrease in the numbers coming forward, lt has to be remembered that up to May we were under an obligation only to send forward 9,500 per month, because the two new divisions formed in Egypt had not up to that time taken the field. In June the number of recruits fell off, and I give the numbers for the different military districts, as well as the totals, for June and July and up to the 23rd of August. The numbers were -
So that for the three months the total enlistments were only 16,689. It must he remembered that every one of these enlistments does not become available for the fighting line. There is, unfortunately, loss . through sickness and other causes, and that loss will have to be deducted from the figures I have quoted; so that I do not think it can be said that more than 14,000 of the 16,000 will find their way to the firing line. During the period from January to May there were months when we could have sent forward more than the quota of 9,500 men; but since August we should have been compelled to adopt some other system in order to keep up reinforcements at the higher rate, because, as I said before, the proportion of even 9,500 per month was not, at that time, being met under the voluntary system.
– How do you account for the fact that, as the necessity for men increased, the number of volunteers dropped off?
– I cannot account for it; though it may be that, on account of the number of men Australia has contributed to the war, the number available is decreasing. We cannot, of course, go on for ever. Then there is the point that all men are not alike in their courage, or, perhaps I had better say, in their patriotism. Some have a greater degree of caution than others; and it may be that, in the earlier stages of the war, the drain upon the patriotic spirits in the Commonwealth was so large that this shortage has now occurred. Again, many men have said they would not go unless compelled. That, in itself, may have been a direct cause of the shortage; but all the causes I have quoted are contributory. When I made the statement, to which I referred just now, that if, at that particular time, more men had come forward than were coming forward, we should not have been able to deal with them, I said what was absolutely true. On a subsequent occasion, however, after repeating the statement, I added, “ Whilst I can say that now, I am not so sure that I shall be able to say it three months hence.” The reason I made that qualification was that I knew this decline had set in, and I was desirous of awakening the minds of honorable senators and the country to the fact that we were coming face to face with a different set of circumstances to those that had existed previously.
– If you were unable to deal with the increased number of men then, what better position are you in now?
– The difficulty we had to face then was, not one of equipment or training, but of carrying the men overseas, and now the Minister for the Navy informs us that with the shipping facilities at his disposal he can only deal with 13,000 men per month.
– That would be your minimum ?
– Australia has, either under the control of this Government or the British Admiralty, a certain amount of shipping, and that shipping, fully utilized - according to information supplied by the Navy Department - will provide for the transport of 13,000 troops per month. Obviously, if we are to do what the Army Council ask us to do, we must have more ships. I ask those people who are talking about waste of time how we can get more ships here under ten weeks? Have they thought of that? Ships cannot be brought here by the mere snap of the fingers. They have to make that long and weary journey across the ocean, and I think it will be found that under no circumstances could additional ships be here under ten weeks’ time. So that if we had more troops brought in by the process of conscription to-morrow, we could not, for ten weeks, send more than 13,000 away per month. That is a point that our friends outside, who are so eager to rush in and criticise- I admit, without full knowledge of the circumstances, and the difficulties - have certainly overlooked ; but it is an important factor in the consideration of whether the Government’s proposals meet the existing conditions, and whether, in view of all the circumstances, the Government’s proposals are not the only proposals that can be adopted to meet those conditions. I will now refer to the possibilities of the Commonwealth meeting this demand. Honorable senators will remember that some time ago a war census was taken by the Commonwealth Statistician. Some figures as to the numbers available were quoted in the local press this morning, but these, I find, are quite inaccurate. In bis return after the census, Mr. Knibbs stated that there were 450,000 persons between the ages of 18 years and 44 years who had not enlisted for active service. There were in the Commonwealth at about the same time - 9 th June - 203,482 single men, 5,243 widowers and divorced men, and 298,754 married men between the ages of 18 and 44 in each case, all of whom returned themselves as “fit.” These figures included the men then in camp, and deducting these there were, on 9th June, 152,910. “fit” single men, the greater proportion of whom were without dependants, 4,839 widowers and divorced men, and 294,859 married men.
– That does not include those who had been rejected.
– They could hardly declare themselves as “ fit “ if they had been rejected. There was no inducement for them to do that.
– But some who returned themselves as “fit” were subsequently found to be “ unfit,” just as there were some who, after returning themselves as “ unfit,” were found by the doctorsto be “fit.”
– I would like to have £5 for each of those who, being “fit,” declared himself “ unfit.” However, according to Mr. Knibbs’ figures, there are 152,000 “ fit “ single men between the ages of 18 and 44. I saw a statement recently in one of the journals that of this number 50,000 were between the ages of 18 and 21. That must, I think, be a purely speculative figure, because Mr. Knibbs’ return gave no such indication. As I have pointed out, there is a demand for 131,000 men up to the end of March, We have, already, 72,000 with which to meet that demand, and we should be able to realize from the 150,000 single men available the remaining 60,000 men, fit and without dependants, ready to stand by their comrades in the field, and to give them the relief they have every right to expect. That is the worst sacrifice Australia is called upon to make under the Government’s proposal.
– That is, up to the time you send these forces away ?
– It is up to March next. We might go on indefinitely extending the period, but we cannot go on indefinitely extending the period during which Australia can send men away. We shall meet other circumstances as conditions alter, but for the moment I am endeavouring to show that the Government’s scheme does meet the present circumstances in a manner to which nobody who believes in the right of the people to govern themselves can object. It does not lose valuable time. It gives us the opportunity for training our men before they are put into the trenches, and it places the obligation upon those members of the community upon whom the sacrifice will fall with least hardship. I confess that certain incidents in connexion with our voluntary system of enlistment have caused me pain. I have seen men going to the front when, in my heart, I felt that they ought not to have been allowed to go. I have seen married men leaving their wives and children behind with very little as a stand-by. In some cases they have been killed and wife and children have been left to battle along as best they could with the assistance given them from the pensions scheme. At the same time, I have seen hundreds of single men, possessing neither chick nor child, healthy and strong, refusing to do anything.
– I suppose 50,000 married men must have left Australia?
– I do not think the number is so great as that. In the early stages of the war the average was about 12 per cent. of married men. When one comes to judge the sacrifice that people are asked to make, the obligation laid upon them, he must surely recognise that if there are any persons in the community who ought to be prepared to pay this price it is the young men of Australia, the men who have the future before them, the inheritors of this great continent. The older men will pass away, but the young men will inherit, and surely they should be prepared to fight for the heritage which will be theirs.
– What is the estimated cost of the referendum?
– An ordinary constitutional referendum costs about £50,000 or £60,000. But that is much more costly than will be this referendum, because a good deal of the printing, such as is involved in the putting of the case for each side, can be dispensed with.
– Does the Bill seek to apply that provision to referenda other than those relating to constitutional alterations I
– No. This is not an ordinary Referendum Bill, hut a simple measure of which the Prime Minister has already given notice. Of course, it remains for Parliament to decide whether it is necessary to go through all the procedure that is followed in the case of constitutional amendments.
– Perhaps the Minister, before he concludes, will allow me to ask a question, which is certainly an important one: Can we assume that the Government collectively will take the affirmative side when this referendum goes to the people?
– The honorable senator will leave the Government to look after themselves. This paternal anxiety on his part is most touching; but I can assure him that that question is one which, after all, does not concern him.
– It does concern me very much, and it also concerns the country.
– The honorable senator will find what the Government will do when they come up against this question. At present we are asking Parliament to indorse our proposal to take a referendum.
– If the Government axe going to oppose the referendum when it is put before the country-
– It is not a question of what individual Ministers will do or of what individual members will do when the referendum goes to the people. Personally, I am prepared to believe that every honorable senator who realizes the seriousness of the position, who recognises the duty which he owes to Australia and the duty that we owe to our Allies in this war, will weigh well the attitude which he will take before the referendum goes to the people. But I do not believe that there ever was a question on which the people were so well able to make up their minds without any help whatever, as they are upon this question. They are quite able to settle it when it is referred to them. Summarizing the position, I say that the Government agree that the need for keeping our existing field forces up to full strength exists, that it is urgent, and that it is our duty to meet it. They say that in order to meet it, in the light of circumstances which have affected recruiting in the- past, it may” be that compulsion will have to be exercised. The Government do not want to exercise compulsion. We are against compulsory service if it can be avoided, and to the extent that voluntary service will supply the deficiency compulsion will not be used. If voluntary enlistment will provide the numbers necessary, compulsion will not be used, even if the proclamation under the Defence Act be issued. To the extent that men volunteer it will not be used. As regards sending troops overseas, the Government do not intend to accept that responsibility without the authority of the people of Australia. No Democrat can object to that course - there is no Democrat but must support it. In taking the course that we propose, we believe that we shall be acting in accordance with the principles of responsible government, one of the fundamental principles of which is that where a Government has not consulted the people upon a question which has arisen since the preceding election, if it be afforded an opportunity of doing so, it ought to consult them. In giving -the people an opportunity to declare themselves, we do not in any way injure the success of the scheme for the supply of recruits, and we do not in any way cause a loss of time.
– Is it proposed to interfere with the provisions of the existing Electoral Act by disfranchising enemy subjects ?
– I cannot answer that question at the present time. The honorable senator will have ample opportunity of bringing it forward. I commend the proposal to honorable senators, believing that they will recognise that the alternative put before them is the only one which adequately meets the situation, whilst recognising the rights of the people.
Debate (on motion by Senator Millen) adjourned.
Senate adjourned at 12.58 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 1 September 1916, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1916/19160901_senate_6_79/>.