House of Representatives
20 February 1942

16th Parliament · 1st Session

Mr. Speaker (Hon. W.M. Mairn) rook the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

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Secret Meeting of Senators and Members

Prime Minister · Fremantle · ALP

by leave - I move -

That a joint meeting of members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives be convened for 4 p.m. this day, for the purpose of discussing in secret the present war, and hearing confidential reports in relation thereto.

In anticipation of that motion being carried a regulation has been gazetted providing that there shall be complete observance of the obligation of secrecy upon both the country and members of the legislature. That regulation reads- 1.The proceedings at any meeting of the Senate and of the House of Representatives convened by the Prime Minister, the President of the Senate, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, or by any or all of those persons, for the purpose of discussing in secret the present war and hearing confidential reports in relation thereto, shall be kept secret.

  1. A person shall not divulge any information made known at any such meeting, or publish or cause to be published any report being or purporting to be a report of any such proceedings, or of any portion thereof, except a report made officially by the Prime Minister.

This regulation shall not apply to anyjoint meeting of members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives unless each House has carried a resolution that a joint meeting of members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives be convened for the purpose of discussing in secret the present war and hearing confidential reports in relation thereto.

I put it to the House that it is utterly impossible, having regard to the requirements of security, for all of the circumstances in relation to the present position of the war to be discussed openly in public places. That necessarily includes this chamber and another place, because of the publicity which inevitably is given to the proceedings in Parliament. Anything less than a full and frank debate, would be, in the circumstances, a travesty of what the country requires. Whatever we may do subsequently, it is at least the duty of this Parliament to know all that can be known, and to express itself freely in respect of what is known, so that what has been, isbeing, and may be done, may be reviewed, and such wisdom as may be deducible from all of it may be applied to the requirements, which are very great and involve the security of Australia. I have only to add that the trusteeship which devolves upon all of us has never previously in the history of our country been so exacting. I feel the position very deeply, but no more, I am sure, than does any other honorable member of this House. I submit that the motion is a proper one, and that the procedure proposed is a necessary preliminary to any other discussions that we may have.

Mr Menzies:

– This will not exclude future public discussion?


– No. When this motion is carried, I propose merely to ask the House to suspend the sitting.

Leader of the Opposition · Darling Downs

– The Opposition wholeheartedly supports the motion. If it be carried, members of this House and of the Senate wall be given the opportunity to hear a frank and free disclosure of whatever information is available in relation to the war, particularly as it affects Australia; and whatever information is given will be kept in the secrecy stipulated by the regulation that the Prime Minister has read.

Minister for Aircraft Production · Barker · ALP

– It is quite true, as the Prime Minister has said, that a very heavy responsibility devolves on this Parliament to-day. But it is not a responsibility that we have acquired since the war with Japan began. On the contrary, it is one that goes back a long way further than that point. According to the press, it is regarded as necessary that there shall be no post-mortems in this place as to why we are in the position that we occupy. I make the pronouncement early, and I hope frankly, that I do not agree with that view. I do not concede that the business of this country, in the crisis with which we are faced to-day, can be satisfactorily settled at a secret meeting. According to the regulation, the only statement that will be permitted to issue from a secret meeting of senators and members will be such as the Prime Minister may care to make to the press.

One of these days, King Compromise will cease to rule in this Parliament. When that happens, it will be necessary for the view of the Opposition to be put by the Leader of the Opposition. Therefore, I take this early opportunity of impressing upon the Leader of the Government the necessity for making some provision to enable the accredited leader of this side of the House to say to the country, after a secret meeting, those things which the Opposition considers the country ought to be told. I have never been an admirer of secret meetings. In my view, they were very important in the past for what they failed to produce rather than for the good that they did in the Parliament. The urgent necessity today is, not that we shall go into a secret meeting, but that certain very important matters shall be discussed by this Parliament in the light of day. In order that that may be done, one or two honorable gentlemen in this place will have to go in for a little surgery, and one or two post-mortems will have to be conducted in order to discover how the patient died, whether it was by the knife, by poisoning, or in some other way. However, let me say this: there are certain vital things which it is necessary to do in this country to-day, and whilst I am not in any sense derogating from what the Government is trying to do, I say that those things have not yet been done. There is no sign of their being done, It is no longer a case, as the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has said so many times, of the enemy hammering at the gates. The enemy is bombing the back door. Whilst we have seen quite a lot in the way of giving effect to certain financial proposals - some of which we shall discuss at a later stage - we do not hear the Government saying to the man-power of this country: “Get to work; there are too many coal-mines idle; there is too much hold-up of industry “. We are entitled to demand, in view of the prospect facing us to-day, that obstructions of this kind shall not be allowed to continue.

Mr Harrison:

– The trouble is that members of the Government say that they will do these things, but do not give effect to their promises.

Mr. ARCHIE CAMERON.Well, something of that sort went on before. If I am compelled to delve into history, there may be more than one who will have to be carved up. The sooner the House gets into open session, the sooner the people of this country are given a clear indication of what we are doing, and the sooner the Government shows that it is prepared to take necessary and vital steps, the better it will be for the defence of the country. We cannot plead, as I have heard it pleaded so many times before, that there is no enemy to worry about, or that Russia or some other country is going to fight our battles for us. We must now realize that we have to fight this battle with our own fists and our ownbrains, standing on our own big, flat feet.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Sitting suspended from3.13 to 10.5 p.m.

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Assent to the following bills reported -

Income Tax Bill (No. 2) 1941.

Income Tax Assessment Bill (No. 2) 1941.

War Tax Bill 1941.

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Prime Minister · Fremantle · ALP

– I desire to inform honorable members that, having regard to the importance of the administration of the Army, I have appointed Senator Fraser, who is Minister of State for External Territories and Minister assisting the Minister for Commerce, to assist also the Minister for the Army.

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Motion (by Mr. Curtin) agreed to -

That the House, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.

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Broadcasting - Militia Call-up - £35,000,000 Liberty Loan.

Motion (by Mr. Curtin) proposed -

That the House do now adjourn.

Barker · ALP

– I had occasion to-night to listen to the broadcast service from Canberra. I have already spoken to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) who said that the announcer was supplied with a statement of what was to be broadcast. My hearing is good. What went over the air was a statement that no further cables to members of the Australian Imperial Force should be lodged at post offices. I heard no qualification as to the destination of such cables. According to a statement which the Postmaster-General (Senator Ashley) showed to me just now, there was supposed to be a qualification in respect of Malaya or Singapore. The whole thing is too stupid for words. These things should not be broadcast. If people are not to send cables to members of the Australian Imperial Force overseas, the place to stop them is at the post office: we should not give to other nations the idea that our cable service is all upset. In the present situation any man with sense must know that he cannot send cables to prisoners of war. Time and time again I have referred to the nature of some of our broadcasts and the gabbling that takes place. If this sort of thing goes on it is time that some body was put up against the wall. Men’s lives are lost, or placed in jeopardy, simply because some one wants to broadcast a message on the air. It is time that this matter was taken up seriously. I listened to to-night’s broadcast in company with another army officer, whose word that neither he nor I heard any qualification will be accepted.

Mr Barnard:

– At what time was the message announced? There was a qualification when I heard the announcement.


– I have had too much experience as a former Postmaster-General not to know that announcers do not always give over the air the precise statement which is handed to them to read. The obvious thing to do is not to take any risk. The right place to stop cables is at the post office. It would be easy to have notices there intimating that cables for certain places will not be accepted. I rose, not with any desire to create difficulties, but simply because I do know the seriousness of this sort of thing. Recently, a broadcast statement by the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin) in which reference was made to broomsticks and rifles was repeated a few hours later on the Japanese radio.

Mr Spender:

– How did it get there?


– I do not know how it got there, but I do know that it got back again. This is not the first time that this kind of thing has happened. When a previous government was in power I had occasion to make similar criticism. I do not say that the position is worse now, but I do say that it is time that men in responsible positions understood that they cannot go on making these statements. By means of short wave wireless, statements which appear in the press may he in enemy hands within a few minutes. The risk is too great. If there is to be any closing of our ranks in this country, and any safeguarding of Australia, the first thing to do is to close our mouths. That is not being done.


.- Recently a constituent of mine, the widow of a soldier who made the supreme sacrifice in the last war, interviewed me, and informed me that her boy of about nineteen years of age had been called up for military service. She produced a medical certificate to the effect that she suffered from a weak heart and asked that her son, when called up for military training, should be placed near to his home, so that he could continue to look after her. As her representative in this Parliament, I addressed a letter to Cap- tain Martin, the officer in charge of the area in which the boy was registered, and gave it to her. Captain Martin, who is an amiable gentleman, said that he could not do anything for her, and he referred her to Major Harris at Marrickville. Unlike Captain Martin, Major Harris was rude to this woman when she presented my letter to him. He told her that she was like a lot of other women who were trying to get their sons exempted from military training and added, “ I have no damn time for you women, and I am not going to be ordered about by any Labour politician”. 1 have always been given to understand that when a man puts on the uniform of an officer of the Australian Army he is expected to conduct himself as a gentleman. My letter was couched in courteous language. I emphasize that this woman did not apply for exemption of her son from military training, but only that he should be placed in the District Finance Office, or in some other place where he could be with his mother at night, as in her state of health she needed his protection. I ask the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) to have this officer, Major Harris, removed from a position where he is able to insult women who call on him on legitimate business, and also to have him instructed to keep party politics out of the Army. I regret that I have to speak in this manner about an officer of the Australian Army. I do not wish to make against him a charge that is not genuine, but this is not the first time that I have received complaints about Major Harris. I do not know him. I have never seen him. But there must be some other place in the Army for him, possibly in the front line, where his services will be of much greater value than they are in an administrative position. I ask the Minister for the Army to give attention to this matter in order to ensure that Major Harris shall be replaced by an officer who will treat genuine requests with courtesy and attention. If an officer cannot accede to such requests, the least he can do is to treat the widow of a soldier with proper consideration and courtesy.


.- I support the remarks of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). In my opinion, the Department of Information should he restrained from making available any news for broadcasting at the present time. Each Sunday evening, radio audiences hear a good deal of information, which is not particularly pleasant news for Australians, but which may be of value to the enemy. About a month ago, I heard a government “spokesman” outline a method by which the Japanese could approach Australia by avoiding and bypassing the Dutch East Indies.

Mr Spender:

– Who is the “spokesman “ ?


– I do not know. But I should like to be told why such information was broadcast. Was the purpose to arouse Australians to greater effort, or to disturb public morale by creating a defeatist attitude? Other words that were used in the broadcast were -

We in Australia might expect to be occupied by the Japanese for a considerable time before we would be finally rescued.

The authorities should prevent the broadcasting of such statements, which lead people in Australia to believe that the day is near when the Commonwealth will be occupied by the enemy.

Prime Minister · Fremantle · ALP

in reply - The matters to which the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) and the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Badman) referred concerning broadcasting will be brought to the notice of the Postmaster-General and Minister for Information (Senator Ashley). I agree with the statement of the honorable member for Barker that too much loose talk has been broadcast in Australia.

Mr Guy:

– What action does the Prime Minister propose to take in order to prevent a repetition?

Mr.CURTIN. - The honorable member for Wilmot surely does not expect me to indicate those remedies to-night.

Mr Guy:

– I want the Prime Minister to act without delay.

Mr.CURTIN.- I shall do so. I shall also bring to the notice of the Minister for the Army (Mr.Forde) the matter to which the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Mulcahy) referred.

I should like to inform the House that this evening the particulars regarding the flotation of the Commonwealth Liberty Loan of £35,000,000 were that £22,800,000 has been subscribed and the banks report that the volume of applications to-day was so great that they were unable to cope with the business. I sincerely hope that our best expectations will be realized and I ask the public of Australia to fill the loan as rapidly as possible.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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The following papers were pre sented : -

Air Force Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1942, No. 29.

Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1941 -

No. 39 - Arms, Explosives and Munition Workers’ Federation of Australia.

No. 40 - Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association of Australia; and Arms, Explosives and Munition Workers’ Federation of Australia.

No. 41. - Commonwealth Temporary Clerks’ Association.

No. 42 - Commonwealth Telegraph Traffic and Supervisory Officers’ Association.


No. 1 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.

No. 2 - Professional Officers’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service.

No. 3 - Australian Third Division Telegraphists and Postal Clerks’ Union.

No. 4 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.

No. 5 - Professional Officers’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service.

No.6 - Commonwealth Telephone Officers’ Association; and Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association of Australia.

No. 7 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.

Audit Act - Transfers of amounts approved by the Governor-General in Council - Financial year 1940-41.

Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act - Regulations- Statutory Rules 1941, No. 305.

Bankruptcy Act -

Rules - Statutory Rules 1942, No. 6.

Thirteenth Annual Report by AttorneyGeneral, for year ended 31st July, 1941.

Commonwealth Public Service ActRegulations - Statutory Rules - 1941, Nos. 309 (Parliamentary Officers), 310. 1942, No. 45.

Customs Act - Proclamations prohibiting the Exportation (except under certain conditions) of -

Casein and manufactures thereof; Corkwood, cork waste and manufactures of cork; Fish oil and other oils of marine origin; Silicon carbide grains and manufactures thereof ; Drugs and chemicals (dated 7th January, 1942).

Leather; Manufactures wholly or mainly of leather (dated 17th December, 1941).

Customs Act and Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations- Statutory Rules 1942, No. 28.

Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules - 1941, Nos. 306, 311. 1942, Nos. 35, 38, 44, 59, 60.

Defence Act and Naval Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules - 1941, No. 308. 1942, No. 27.

Income Tax Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, No. 327 .

Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act - Statement for year 1940-41. hands Acquisition Act - Land acquired -

For Administrative purposes - Darwin, Northern Territory.

For Banking purposes-Goondiwindi, Queensland.

For Defence purposes -

Albany, Western Australia (2).

Amberley, Queensland.

Ballarat, Victoria.

Bassendean, Western Australia.

Beelerup, Western Australia.

Brighton, Tasmania.

Cheltenham, South Australia.

Cootamundra, New South Wales.

Cowra, New South Wales.

Darley, Victoria.

Darwin, Northern Territory (2).

Deloraine, Tasmania.

Dubbo, New South Wales.

Evans Head, New South Wales (2).

Geraldton, Western Australia.

Glenorchy, Tasmania.

Granton, Tasmania.

Horn Island, Queensland.

Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Maribyrnong, Victoria.

Maryborough, Queensland (2).

Morphett Vale, South Australia.

Mount Martha, Victoria.

Nhill, Victoria.

Ovingham Park, South Australia. Parafield, South Australia.

Pat’s River, Flinders Island, Tasmania.

Prospect, South Australia.

Puckapunyal, Victoria.

Riddell, Victoria.

Rocklea, Queensland.

Salisbury, South Australia.

St.Marys, New South Wales.

Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.

Winchelsea, Victoria.

For Postal purposes -

Bowral, New South Wales.

Corbie Hill, New South Wales.

Monto, Queensland.

Naracoopa, King Island, Tasmania.

North Adelaide, South Australia.

Shepparton, Victoria.

Ulverstone, Tasmania.

Whyalla, South Australia.

For Postal, Telegraphic, Telephonic and other like services -

Penrith, New South Wales.

For Repatriation purposes- Kenmore,


For Seat of Government purposes - Australian Capital Territory (Parish of Urayarra).

National Security Act -

National Security (Exchange Control) Regulations - Order - Exemption.

National Security (Fair Rents) Regulations - Bules - Australian Capital Territory, and Darwin, Northern Territory.

National Security (General) Regulations - Orders -

Control of highways.

Control of lights (2).

Inventionsand Designs (202).

Prohibited places (7).

Prohibiting work on land (3).

Protected areas (3).

Taking possession of land, &c. (205).

Use of land (61).

National Security (Maritime Industry)

Regulations - Order - Qualifications of Seamen.

National Security (Supplementary) Regulations - Orders - Deferment of banking business (10).

National Security (War-time Banking Control ) Regulations - Orders - Exemption (2).

Regulations - Statutory Rules - 1941, Nos. 287, 288, 280, 200, 291, 292, 293, 294, 295, 296, 297, 298, 299, 300, 301, 302, 303, 304, 314, 316, 317, 318, 320, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326. 1942, Nos. 1, 2, 4,9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18,19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36, 37, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 62, 65,66,67.

Nationality Act - Return for 1941.

Naval Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules - 1941, No. 307. 1942, Nos. 8, 25, 20, 48.

Navigation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules - 1941, No.315. 1942, No. 30.

New Guinea Act - Ordinance - 1941 - No. 22 - Appropriation 1 94 1 -1 942.

Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Crown Lands Ordinance - Reasons for resumption of reservation of certain lands near Alice Springs.

Papua Act - Ordinances - 1941 -

No. 12 - Matrimonial Causes.

No. 13 - Native Labour.

No. 14 - Post and Telegraph,

No.15 - Customs Tariff(No. 8).

Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1942, No. 5.

Quarantine Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1942, No. 61.

Scienceand Industry Research Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1942, No. 7.

Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act-

Ordinances - 1942 -

No.1 - Careless Use of Fire.

No. 2 - Building and Services.

No. 3 - Enemy Raids Precautions.

No. 4- Public Parks.

No. 5 - Cinematograph Films.

No.6 - Education.

No. 7 - Scaffolding and Lifts.

Regulations- 1942 -

No. 1 (Police Ordinance).

No. 2 (Building and Services Ordinance).

Supply and Development Acts - Regulations -Statutory Rules 1942, Nos. 3, 47.

Wine Overseas Marketing Act - Regulations -Statutory Rules 1941, No. 319.

Houseadjourned at 10.20 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 February 1942, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.