15th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– by leave - On the motion for the adjournment of the Senate yesterday, Senator Keane drew attention to an apparent defect in the National Security (Fair Rents) Regulations through the lapsing, in December last, of a provision that house rents were not to increase beyond those which were in operation on the 31st August, 1939. At the Premiers Conference in September last, when price control was discussed, it was agreed that the control of rents should be undertaken by the States.Some of the States, at that time, were not in a position to take effective control and the Commonwealth gazetted the National Security (Fair Rents) Regulations empowering the State governments to establish machinery for controlling rents during the war. As some delay might have occurred in setting up the necessary machinery, the regulations included a provision similar to that embodied in the early prices regulations that rents were to be held at the level of the 31st August. This provision expired on the 31st December, by which time it was anticipated that the full machinery of control by the States would bo in operation. The regulations were recently amended, at the request of one State, to cover the rent of factories, and, if further defects are found, the Commonwealth will gladly consider any request by the States to remedy them. To continue indefinitely a provision fixing rents at the level of the 31st August would be to take the control out of the hands of the States, and to leave no ground for adjustment of rent at the request of either landlord or tenant. The States, however, have full powers to investigate all matters relating to rents and to fix rents.
– Can the Assistant Minister for Commerce supply any information concerning the next payment to be made by the Australian Wheat Board in respect of wheat in the No. 2 pool?
– As was announced recently, a further payment of 4d. a bushel is due to be paid on the 16th August on last year’s crop.
– Will the Minister representing the Prime Ministerstate whether the Government values the assistance of members of this Parliament in stimulating the war effort? If so, will the Government issue instructions to all committees that the assistance of federal members is to be sought in addressing meetings and in stimulating the sale of war savings certificates? My reason for submitting this question is that, in Tasmania, the federal members are being ignored.
– The efforts of any member of this Parliament who is prepared to assist in the war effort will be appreciated.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Development inform me whether, before the petrol-rationing plan is put into operation, the Government will make a statement on the subject of uneconomic competition by motor transport with government railways?
– I cannot say that a ministerial statement will be made on that matter, but, if the honorable senator will state more clearly what information he desires, I shall endeavour to obtain it for him.
– In view of the inefficiency, waste, and loss of temper and time occasioned in deciphering Roman numerals in Commonwealth publications, will the Leader of the Senate ascertain whether the Prime Minister will favorably consider the exclusive use of Arabic numerals in all Commonwealth publications? Should it be decided to retain the obsolete Roman numeral system, will the Prime Minister provide for the use also of ordinary numerals, so that ordinary people may understand the numbering of documents?
– I shall refer the request of the honorable senator to the Prime Minister.
Employees of Privatebanks
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
What is the total amount applied for by the associated banks on behalf of their employees in war savings certificates, and the amount paid to the private banks as commission on these applications?
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: -
The Government has no information as to war savings certificates taken up by banks for their employees. No commission is paid in connexion with the sale of these certificates.
Advances Paid to Growers
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
What amounts have been paid to growers of apples and pears under the acquisition scheme in each State?
– The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following answers : -
The advances paid to growers of apples and pears, on bare fruit, up to the 30th July, 1940, are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Air, upon notice -
– The Minister for Air has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Information, upon notice -
– The Minister for Information has supplied the following answers : -
– by leave - read a copy of the statement - War-time Agricultural Policy - which was delivered in the House of Representatives by the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Archie Cameron) on the 6th August (vide page 202), and moved -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Senator Fraser) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 6th August (vide page 168), on. motion by Senator Collett -
That the paper be printed.
– We are assembled again under the mental tension of war, an intensified tension because the portents have worsened over the intervening weeks since the last meeting of the Senate. I desire to emphasize by reiteration Labour’s attitude to the existing Government. It can be summarized very briefly in these words : “ Full co-operation in its war effort “. I emphasize also Labour’s willingness to accept the most complete responsibility for the conduct of this Commonwealth during this period of unprecedented emergency. By that I mean that we stand for an immediate appeal to the electors, while we definitely refuse to participate in a national government in which those comprising the Labour section of it would be sworn to secrecy and would be sharers of responsibility with no pretence of equality of power. I summarize that statement by saying that we do not propose touse the old pack of cards. As the Premier of Queensland said recently we ask for a new pack, a new shuffle and a new deal. I make these statements of Labour’s attitude briefly and definitely with the full sense of the responsibility for what I am saying.
The statement that we are discussing is to me, and I believe to every member of the Opposition, if not the members on the Government side -I should be surprised to know that theyare satisfied with it - a most disappointing document. With respect and without intending any reflection on the Minister (Senator Collett), who delivered it in the
Senate yesterday, I say that it was an uninspiring statement read in an uninspiring way. I am not Warning the Minister for that. I know that there was only one copy available and that it was thrust into the hands of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. McEwen) for delivery in the House of Representatives at the eleventh hour, and even later into the hands of the Minister who had to deliver it in this chamber. I say in passing that I hope that yesterday was the last occasion on which we shall have a ministerial statement read and ended with a motion that the paper be printed without copies of the statement being available to members of this chamber. To-day the performance has been much more satisfactory. I exonerate the Minister from blame because I know exactly what happened, but I asked him yesterday to let me have sufficient copies for my colleagues. He agreed to do that. We got them five minutes ago. We have enough staff here to do the job of the Government as it should be done, and we should have had those statements, as promised, the first thing this morning.
– The character of that statement was such that it had to be closed at the latest possible time. That, perhaps, is why the delivery of copies was delayed.
– Why are members of the Opposition privileged to get copies and we not?
– I presume that, if Government supporters have not that privilege, it is because of their indolence in not demanding service. The point I make is that some servants of this Government fell down badly on a simple job. After midday to-day, I was given four copies, hardly readable, and I was told that no others could be provided, because the wax stencil sheets had been destroyed. We should have been supplied with proofs of the Hansard report of the Minister’s speech last night. We did not want corrected pulls. I would not expect my colleagues to take part in a debate if they were not given the same opportunity of decent preparation as I.
I am induced to make these remarks because I take exception to the manner in which the statement was prepared as well as the manner in which it was delivered. The Minister, I understand, had not had an opportunity to study it. Obviously, the Government thinks it does not matter how things are done in the Senate. The statement read yesterday by the Minister was a reflection upon the intelligence of honorable senators and an insult to the people whom we represent in this chamber. It was a valueless jumble of alleged news, practically every word of which we have either read in the press or heard in wireless broadcasts. Yet it appears in Hansard with the magniloquent title “ Ministerial statement on International Affairs “. If any honorable senator can tell me or if the Minister who delivered the statement can tell rae that it added any thing whatever, one solitary item, to the information already in possession of honorable senators who read the daily press or listen to the radio news, all I can say is that I have not been able to discover it. 1 “ swotted “ the statement last night in an attempt to get some satisfaction from it but I could not do so. I do not intend to read much of the document because there is so very little in it, but it begins by saying-
When towards the end of June I addressed the House on the general situation abroad, it was to recount the tragic circumstances leading to the surrender of France and the elimination of that country from the war against Germany. I do not suppose that on that occasion there were many of us who would have cared to foretell the position in which we would find ourselves six weeks later.
Now the Labour Opposition in this chamber and in the House of Representatives has told the Government since 1937 over and over again with painful iteration that the situation was worsening every 24 hours. We said neither the Government nor anybody else was able to tell what the final alinement would be. One cannot tell to-day. ‘Yet the first paragraph of this statement expresses surprise. We are told that no one could have foretold ! Of course they could. Any intelligent government should have known that eventually we would be faced with a situation as intensified as it is to-day.
– One of the leading members of the Labour party in the House of Representatives declared twelve months ago that war was not likely to occur, and that the Government was indulging in war hysteria.
– I am not responsible for men who make irresponsible statements either here or elsewhere. I ;im now dealing with a statement made by a responsible Minister of State in this Government. That statement makes him say in effect, “ We were entirely surprised. Now we find we are up against it”. All I can say is that the Government had no right to be surprised because the Labour party in both Houses warned it of what was coming.
– That is incorrect.
– Reference to Ilansard will show that I, as Leader of the Opposition in this chamber, made a definite appeal on one occasion regarding certain matters concerning another power, and Sir George Pearce, who was then Leader of the Senate and Minister for Defence, said that I had no right whatever even to insinuate that another power was likely to become unfriendly. I did not mention the name, but I asked the Minister to let us know which nation was our potential enemy. To-day, we know, and we are also aware that nothing adequate has been done to meet the situation.
In making these comments, I wish to be fair to myself and to every member of the Opposition, and I also desire, to be fair to the Government. I say without any reservations, mental or otherwise, that no member of the Opposition fails to understand the immensity of the task confronting the Government. We should understand the responsibility that rests upon Ministers, because the Opposition of to-day may be the government of tomorrow. The Opposition realizes that a great deal must he done during wartime which cannot he blazoned forth to the world, and it has given proof that, in the main, it has not desired to embarrass the Government. The nature of the questions addressed to Ministers during the last few months supports my statement. Therefore, there is nothing that the Government should feel obliged to withhold from members of this Parliament. The war has been in progress for a year, hut we have never been told anything more valuable about it than the uninspiring statement which we are now discussing. Surely honorable senators on both sides of the chamber have sufficient pride to demand that no information regarding the war be kept from them. The Opposition asks the Government to hold a secret session of this Parliament. If this request be refused, the only reason for the refusal would be that the Government is afraid to trust honorable senators and members of the House of Representatives. The information that could be supplied to honorable senators at a secret session would at least provide a background of knowledge, and honorable senators on both sides could be relied upon not to disclose information which should rightly be withheld. We should know the best and the worst of what has happened. If there be a senator on either side who cannot be trusted to tell his electors what it would be safe for him to say, and .to withhold what he knew could not safely be said, he should not be a member of this chamber. The Government is afraid of a secret session, because it is not willing to trust all or some of us.
I shall give an illustration of the kind of esteem in which responsible Ministers hold members of this Parliament. With what I consider to he impudence and silliness, they have issued instructions to the three arms of the Defence Forces that they must nol; enlist the services of a member of Parliament to voice their grievances, either here or in the House of Representatives. That was a rotten and disgusting thing to do, as well as an impudent assumption of authority. I stated in a letter to one Minister, and I repeat it here, that there are 583,321 male and female electors in Queensland. In October, 1937, that number of electors was on the rolls. Every one of those electors has the right to call on my services and the services of the five other senators from Queensland, if and when he or she requires them. No Minister should tell me that I cannot be trusted to do my job properly, and that my electors must not appeal to me, if they want my advice-
– Advice in what direction ?
– The honorable senator is not to he the judge of the advice that I am te give. Those electors pay my salary, and I am to be the judge of whether I should give them my services.
I shall never forget the speech which our comrade, Senator Keith Wilson, made on the night before he left to answer the call of duty in the highest way he knew. He stood in his place for at least half an. hour and recited grievances and ridiculous occurrences in camp and throughout the services. He prefaced his statement by saying that for three months he had been a soldier, and had been unable to make such statements, but that that night he would speak as a senator.
– That impressed the honorable senator profoundly.
- His remarks impressed me a great deal, particularly when I read the order implying that no senator in this National Parliament could be trusted to do his duty by his electors for fear he might upset somebody in a position of temporary responsibility - a responsibility not always wisely exercised. On behalf of myself and my colleagues from Queensland, I ask the Minister to remember that we get closer to the people in regard to complaints than do Ministers and other honorable senators opposite. The people look to members of the Opposition as those who are prepared to take the responsibility of voicing their legitimate grievances. The people say “ The Opposition will take our complaints up, and will try to obtain for us a square deal.” I do not suggest that all of their complaints are justifiable. I suppose that, of the hundreds of grievances placed before me, I have turned down one half of them, but I am to be the judge of that matter.
I suggest to the Leader of the Senate, and to his colleagues on the front bench - and I do so in a serious vein - that a definite Australian policy is needed in regard to the war and all that pertains to it. We need an “Australia First” policy. The time has arrived when nothing should be done in connexion with this struggle which has not for its immediate objective the saving of this country from the disaster of invasion and all that that implies. I am prepared to go to the electors on a defence policy which envisages the preservation of the safety of Australia as the job of an Australian government. We are entitled to know a number of things regarding the war, whether we have a secret session or not. We have a right to know what the Government has told the Government of the United Kingdom about Australia’s needs and desires, and Australia’s opinion as to the duty and obligation of the Government of the United Kingdom regarding its activities and its relations with other governments, particularly those in the ‘South Pacific. Honorable senators opposite say that there are certain facts which must not be disclosed to the enemy. Of course, information which would be of advantage to the enemy must not be disclosed ; but the Government should hold a secret session of this Parliament at which we could be told exactly what has been done. We should have been informed in the statement which was delivered yesterday of the recommendations made to the United Kingdom Government with respect to the closing of the Burma-road. There could be no reason whatever why the text of the communications was not made available because the enemy knew of it and was actually a party to it. Information on that and similar subjects should be made available to this Parliament. The statements which have been made are practically valueless. We know that they are not the truth. This most recent statement from a responsible Minister was valueless. We know that it was not true.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - Order! The honorable senator is not entitled to say that a statement was not true.
– I did not use the word “ untrue “ in an offensive sense I meant that it was not all of the truth; I did not mean that it was deliberately false. Either in a secret or in an open session, we should be told all of the truth, and nothing but the truth. How can we do our duty to the nation unless we know what is actually occurring* I do not know what my colleagues think of the situation as it develops from day to day; but I can say most definitely that I refuse to read the public press on the international situation. I look at the headlines and then pass on, because it is all so much “ hooey “. Day after day we are told things which are an insult to one’s intelligence. In every engagement reported apparently nothing of importance occurs. We read that buildings are blown up and perhaps a hoy is injured. Other reports are to the effect that everything is just as we would like it to he, and that the other fellow got it “ in the neck “. 1 refuse to read that kind of rubbish. I again protest against the press reports that come under my purview. Had I had my way - perhaps I had better not say what I intended because I do not believe in dictatorships - at the outbreak of war I would have closed up every newspaper office in the country and allowed the Government to publish its own official paper in which it could tell the people just what it wished them to know.
– That is what is happening now.
– It would depend on the government in power. We have a right to know what the Censor is doing. I should like to know why the authorities are engaging men and women, who have no responsibility, who go about telling lies about people against whom they have a grudge. In conjunction with the honorable member for Brisbane (Mir. George Lawson) I took up the case of a man of enemy origin who has been in Australia for 43 years, during 42 of which he has been a naturalized British su’bject. This man was deprived of his permit to work on the wharves. To a degree that was all right, because instructions had been issued by the Navigation Department that no person of enemy origin was to possess a permit to work on the wharves. But this man’s permit was withdrawn because it was said that he was a menace to the community and should not be allowed to work on the wharves. I have known the man for 26 years - the honorable member for Brisbane has known him for 30 years - as a faithful and loyal Australian. His youngest son is serving in the Australian Imperial Force, his youngest daughter is married to a police constable in North Queensland, and the other members of his family are of the highest possible repute. The first alleged fact on which action was taken was a deliberate and wilful lie. It was said that he was interned during the last war. There is not a shadow of foundation for that statement. He is a member of the Australian Labour party and is as loyal a British subject as could be found anywhere. His permit was taken from him because of a statement, not by a responsible officer in government employ, but by a man who worked on the wharf, and whose objection to him was of a personal nature. If we had a secret session of Parliament, I would have an opportunity to tell all I know about the censorship and of the cruel things that are being done under the present system. I am not suggesting that we should dispense with censorship. I have taken up some cases in all sincerity and in some instances have been astounded when I have found that I was on. the wrong track. If we are to have a censorship system, it must be organized and operated by men who have some standing in the community, and to whom is attached some measure of responsibility.
We have a right to know - we should have known long ago - exactly what the Government intends to do with respect to rationing of petrol. At the hands of this shilly-shallying Government, decisions, particularly with respect to many matters of national importance, are being altered daily. As a result of the pronouncement made some time ago that -the consumption of .petrol had to be reduced by one-third, many persons jacked up their cars and, in consequence, thousands of persons have been thrown out of employment. I am not suggesting that petrol should not bo rationed. From the first day on which I entered this Parliament as a representative of Queensland, the Opposition has been asking governments to conserve supplies of liquid fuel and to increase the quantity held in storage. On one occasion an ex-Minister for Development (Senator A. J. McLachlan) said that oil could not he extracted economically from coal under the hydrogenation process, although we knew that this process was being successfully applied in Germany and at BillingtononTees in England. We were told that it was not a commercial proposition in Australia. In a national emergency, we are not concerned with whether it is or is not a commercial proposition, particularly when we realize that we are spending millions in our war effort. In the circumstances confronting us, something has to be done. The Queensland Government did not wait until Australia was faced with a shortage, but encouraged the establishment of a power-alcohol factory in northern Queensland, and later passed legislation which provided that every supplier of petrol had to mix 21/2 per cent. of power spirit with the petrol sold, which proportion has since been increased to 5 per cent. For years, the Opposition has been asking various governments to increase the production of fuel oil in Australia. Nothing will be achieved by waiting. Yesterday, I asked a question as to the policy of the Government with respect to gas producer units, and I was told most politely to-day that the information is not yet to hand. A junior clerk should have been able to obtain the information which should be available on the files.
We also have a right to know what the Government is doing with respect to profiteering, and whether the scheme to control prices is functioning satisfactorily. I know that the Government’s proposal is a failure.
– Because profiteering has not been stopped.
– Will the honorable senator give one instance?
– If I start to do that, I shall exhaust my time before I have finished citing instances. I now propose to show what is happening on the other side of the world. Mr. Ernest Bevin, one of the Labour members of the British Government, said-
– The Labour party has its representatives in the National Government in Britain.
– Yes, under different terms from those proposed by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). I may inform the Assistant Minister that in a reshuffle or whatever it may be termed, the Labour party would not be satisfied with four portfolios. Our party would not be satisfied with four, five or six portfolios. It requires fifteen. The Assistant Minister knows what I mean by that. Mr. Bevin said -
I have led many strikes; I do not apologize for having done so-
I, too, have led a few strikes and I am not apologizing -
I have had to ask men to stick to it to the last ditch and I would do so again. Now as Minister of Labour, I must call upon everyone in the country to do tilings. I shall have to take steps in regard to the production of all that is required for war. Conditions must be put right in order that I can do it. Private profit must not stand in the way. I must have conditions in which I am not working to enrich somebody.
This Government has not visualized anything like that. At the outbreak of war, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Curtin) suggested the appointment of an unpaid committee of members whose responsibility would be to see that the country got full value for the money it expended. That proposal was ridiculed by the Government. What is being done with respect to the rents of factories? Has any effort been made to ascertain whether fair rents are being paid, and how many properties are rented - some from persons from whom they should not have been rented - and how many properties have been leased which are not being used? Information such as that should be disclosed, either in a secret or open session.
At the outbreak of war, I delivered a speech on the subject of profiteering, in the course of which I said there ought to be no profiteering either by wageearners, by farmers in the sale of primary produce, or by private enterprises engaged in the manufacture of armaments, munitions and essential war requirements. I should like to know why excessive overtime is being worked in some munitions factories and allied industries while there are thousands of men unemployed.
– Why is that being done in England?
– I shall tell the honorablesenator. A fortnight ago in the English Parliament, Mr. Ernest Bevin said that long hours had been tried and had failed because the output had not been so good as it was when shorter hours were worked. For that reason, shorter hours were being reverted to and more shifts were being worked in order to increase output. Any one who has had experience in industry knows that workers reach a point when exhaustion results in inefficiency.
Profiteering in overtime should not he permitted. I do not for one moment suggest that all the people who are unemployed are capable of being put into skilled occupations, but I do say that every man who is able to perform a useful task in industry should be absorbed. It cannot bc denied that many thousands of men who are capable of taking their places in defence industries are now unemployed. My Queensland colleagues and I are constantly approached by men with all kinds of credentials seeking employment, but because of red tape, circumlocution and inadequate methods, no work is available for them and, as the result, their spirits are broken and their morale destroyed. “We are entitled to he told what the Government intends to do with regard to its next budget. I was horrified to read in a reputable Australian newspaper - the Sydney Morning Herald - the following statement, which bears all the evidence of truthfulness: -
Thu belief that an election is imminent has recast ideas that the budget proposals which the Government proposes to introduce will contain un announcement of further tax increases.
Many people in Australia have the “ jitters “ about the Government’s taxation proposals. Fortunately. I am not one of those who get that way ; I approve of the tax on incomes because I hold that people receiving large incomes should be polled upon to pay their full share of taxation, especially in time of war. The statement goes on -
Increased taxation is inevitable and the Treasurer (Mr. Spender) has prepared proposals for submission to the Cabinet. If an early election is to be held, however, it seems unlikely that the Ministry will press on with that immediately. However ready the public might be to bear the burden of financing the war effort, an immediate increase might cause adverse political reaction, even if it were only a minor note.
There is more villainy in that sentence than I believed could possibly creep into the activities of any national government -
Mr. Spender has prepared an alternative financial statement which merely reviews finance and present departmental estimates for the year. Because the Treasury has sufficient finance to carry on until the end of the year, there is no reason why this course should nol be adopted -
There is one .reason - political decency -
The Cabinet will probably make its decision at a meeting on Tuesday, when the session, which will last a month, will begin.
Over and over again in this chamber, I have expressed my disgust at the jockeying and manoeuvring which has been evident in recent years between the two competing parties now composing the Government. But despicable though that activity has been, it is nothing compared to the suggestion that because an election is pending, the people of Australia should not be told what are the Government’s taxation proposals. The Government has enough money to carry on during the present year, and of course it would not be good political strategy to scare the people stiff on the eve of the poll. If honorable senators can think of anything worse than that, I cannot.
– Does the honorable senator believe that?
– I not only believe it but I am satisfied that the reason the Government’s budget proposals are not ready for presentation to this Parliament is that for political purposes they have had to be re-cast. That is in effect what the statement which I have just quoted says, and I believe that the legislation which the Government will bring clown this session will prove it.
The Government is talking about introducing a bill to amend the War-time (Company) Tax Act. In’ that connexion another very responsible Australian newspaper - root a Labour journal - says -
The Federal Government will meet with considerable criticism if, in the bill now before Parliament, it intends to proceed with the proposed tax on all profits of companies over 8 per cent.
In its present form the tax will not reach some of Australia’s biggest and wealthiest companies.
Of course it will not. It is not intended to reach them; it never does. I have already protested to the Government against the unfair incidence of taxation. The article, which, incidentally, was written by the financial editor of the
Brisbane Courier-Mail - one of the Sir Keith Murdoch chain of newspapers - continues -
An analysis of the latest profits of 60 major companies shows that only fifteen, or a quarter of them, will come within its scope. Many companies, leaders in their particular industry employing millions of pounds in their business, and whose names are household words, are among those which apparently will be missed.
On the other hand, the tax may fall heavily on small companies with less capital and less solid reserves. On these companies seemingly, the Federal Treasurer is relying for the £4,250,000 which the tax is expected to yield in1940-41.
It is intended to tax all profits of a company exceeding 8 per cent. of capital employed, that is its capital and reserves combined.
– That is the capital employed.
-What about the reserves?
– They are included in capital employed.
– Then I hope that the bill will make that clear in the definition. The statement continues -
A company may earn 10 per cent. on its capital, but, if its reserves equal its capital, its percentage earnings to capital employed is only 8 per cent.-
Of course !
Australia’s big, well-established companies carry large reserves, which have been saved from the profits of previous years. They are in their leading position to-day mainly because of these reserves, amounting to 50 per cent., 75 per cent. or even 100 per cent. of the issued capital. Reserves mean strength, and consequently capacity to pay further taxation; but by a paradox, these reserves become the means for avoiding further taxation.
Members of this chamber have a right to be given all available information as to taxation proposals. I do not think there is any need for a secret session in order that that information may be imparted. It willbe of no advantage to the enemy if we are told all of the truth; we have a right to be told the truth. We of the Opposition have a right to demand that the Government should tell us what plans it is making to deal with post-war problems when they arise, and they will not be long in rising. Strange though it may seem, some post-war difficulties are already confronting us, and their effect will be intensified in the years to come in a way that makes people shudder to contemplate. We have a right to know what the
Government proposes to do about these problems, and as I have already said, we have a right to know when the Government intends to declare an “Australian policy “, not for war but for peace. When is the Government going to prepare the people for the realization that the world can never go back to the condition in which it was prior to the outbreak of war last September? The people have a right to know that, because from this war - unavoidably, I admit - a legacy of hate will be inflicted upon the world. In fact, it is being inflicted now. As I have already hinted, anybody who has a grudge against somebody else may have that person interned simply by sending an anonymous and unconfirmed message over the telephone, or by indulging in whispering. The legacy of hate from this war will extend far into the years to come unless the Government is prepared now to put forward some concrete ideas with regard to the kind of peace which it believes to be desirable and the kind of post-war world conditions which it is prepared to father or support.
I think I have given some indication of the immensity of the problems of the present, as well as those of the future, as we of the Opposition see them. I do not retract one word of what I said at the outset of my remarks. The Labour party will accept its full share of responsibility. We shall fully co-operate with the Government in its war effort, but we decline to accept the view that we must not be critical, so long as our criticism is confined to proper limits and is not such as to be beneficial to the enemy, if published abroad. If there is information to which we should have access, and which can be made available only by means of a secret session, then we ask that a secret session be held. The Opposition definitely refuses to take part in a national government unless, along with responsibility, it has full power. We definitely refuse to prolong the life of this Parliament under any pretence, or in any circumstances, and we are in favour of an immediate appeal to the electors so that they may be given an opportunity to decide what kind of government they want. We shall be satisfied with whatever verdict is given by the people. The MenziesCameronThorby Government has no mandate from the electors, and there can be no excuse for any extension of the life of this Parliament. We are ready to go to our masters and I ask the Government to facilitate that process.
.- During the recess I travelled around Victoria a great deal. I found that the Government was commended for its decision to increase the strength of a home defence army by calling up the 20-25 years classes and permitting volunteers up to the age of 45 years to join the Militia. Satisfaction was also expressed at the formation of a volunteer home defence corps from amongst ex-service men. Nevertheless, there was a very decided expression of opinion that the Government had not gone far enough in organizing Australia’s man-power not engaged in defence activities. Some scheme was needed which would embody the Returned Soldiers League Volunteer Home Defence Corps or would include every citizen able and willing to do some service.
The scheme I have in mind is that drafted by one of the municipalities in Victoria. I had the opportunity to peruse the replies .by scores of municipalities throughout Australia to a circular letter outlining that scheme. The comments were favorable. In almost every reply co-operation was promised, provided the scheme had the Government’s approval. Obviously no such scheme could come into operation except” as an activity under the Defence Department. I understand that the official answer was that the idea had some merit in it, but was unfavorably entertained because it would not be practicable to organize and train on a satisfactory basis the whole nation in addition to organizing, training and equipping the existing forces. Nobody disputes the gigantic task confronting the Minister for ‘ the Army (Mr. Street), particularly when at the outbreak of war his responsible officers had to start from scratch, so far as war equipment was concerned. Still, that is no reason why patriotic citizens ineligible for front-line home defence service should be discouraged. The scheme, as I read it, does not contemplate training every male citizen in the use of arms: That, is unnecessary except in certain isolated areas. The proposal is to organize the citizen population, so that in time of emergency they would not be stampeded by or be confused with a dozen different instructions.
The people to whom I spoke were not cranks or alarmists, but merely average Australias citizens with little knowledge of strategy or tactics. They are intelligent men who have correctly summed up the present war as one not entirely confined to the nation’s armed forces. These men will not be satisfied until they feel they are recognized and doing something. The public is in the right frame of mind for action. Why does the Government hesitate to take the opportunity now to encourage the local authorities to work out, in collaboration with the defence authorities, a second line, or third line, if you like, home defence scheme which, if not required in the present crisis, will be useful in years to come ? Australia must not be so indifferent to its defence in the future as it has been in the past.
It is the present which concerns us. The whole world is in arms. Any day, dormant national ambitions may be aroused to decisive action. Britain’s lone fight for existence may cause new enemies to feel that its position gives to them the opportunity to follow the lead of Italy, and without great danger to themselves gain new possessions and so expand their own power and influence. In such a situation, no country is in greater danger than our own. The very isolation, which has in the past been our greatest source of security, now becomes our greatest danger. With all its will to protect Australia, Great Britain is no longer in such a position as would justify us depending upon the Mother Country to keep us safe from invasion. We must depend on our own resources. But those resources cannot be utilized to the fullest degree without the complete organization of the whole community. It is not sufficient to rely on the resources of the Commonwealth Government alone; the whole machinery of government - Commonwealth, State and local instrumentalities - must be utilized to the utmost capacity to build up in the shortest possible time a system of national defence wherein every man, in a time of emergency, can play an effective part in backing to the limit the army in the field.
There must be no thought of capitulation or compromise. If invasion comes, it must be a fight to the finish.For us the words of Mr. Winston Churchill: “We shall fight on the beaches, fight on the landing grounds, fight in the streets, and fight in the hills “, have an even greater significance. No man, woman or child must be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy. Livestock, foodstuffs and petrol supplies must be removed or destroyed well in advance of the invader. Auxiliary forces must be used to delay and harass the enemy so as to leave the field armies free to choose, as far as the circumstances allow, the best ground for giving battle. Necessarily, our field armies must be based on the large centres of population; necessarily, vast areas must be left unprotected by any army concentration. With an unorganized civilian population the greater part of Australia will become the happy hunting ground for raiding parties, which could be landed at localities remote from populous centres. The mere report that enemy troops had landed in unprotected areas along our coast would cause panic out of all proportion to their numbers.
How is such a position to be met? Our army cannot dissipate its strength by detaching small garrison forces to anticipate possible landings in non-vital areas. If the Army cannot do it, what then? There is only one answer - auxiliary civil forces must be organized to detain and harass the enemy. Such auxiliary forces can readily be formed by utilizing the resources of the State and local governing bodies, co-ordinated and controlled by the Defence Department. To-day the defence of Britain includes over 1,000,000 men as auxiliary units to the fighting forces, who number about 4,000,000 men. Australia has 2,000,000 males of military age, 18 to 60 years, of whom, possibly, 1,000,000 are, or will be, in uniform or workmen’s overalls. What of the remainder? Is there no niche for them in our home defence scheme? In dire need, scarcely any one could be regarded as indispensable in his ordinary occupation outside essential defence activities. Preparation should begin now for that contingency. Surely we have learnt something from the fate of Germany’s victims, and shall not wait till the enemy is at our gate.
I believe that every honorable senator has been supplied with a copy of the draft scheme to which I have already referred. Under these proposals eachof the thousands of municipalities and shires throughout the Commonwealth would organize an auxiliary home defence unit, the whole scheme to be controlled and directed by the Defence Department with the co-operation of State governments. Every member of each unit need not necessarily be armed, since fighting is not the sole function in every scheme of national defence. This force would at least be organized and disciplined, and would have some knowledge of the part civilians would be required to play in supporting the field army, and depriving the enemy of foodstuffs and other essential supplies. The value of the men embraced in this scheme, in taking the place of able-bodied young soldiers in the multitudinous duties behindthe forward area, is obvious. Helpless women, the aged, the infirm and children could be withdrawn from threatened areas and taken care of by the governing bodies in safer localities, able-bodied men taking their places at the point of danger. Unless some recognized defence organization of this kind, controlled by the Defence Department, be established, oncean invader appears, whether the Government likes it or not, nothing will prevent the virile men of this country from forming themselves into guerilla bands. Such men may be liable to be shot on sight. The Government’s duty to the men of this country is to do all in its power to avoid the possibility of such a condition.
Whilst we all hope to be spared the horrors of invasion, we must havethe courage to face the fact that it is now more than a possibility. Whether this or any other scheme be adopted, it is imperative that the full man -power of the nation, by one means or another, be marshalled to meet whatever fate awaits us. The problems of evacuation of the civil population in areas likely to be invested by the enemy, come within the scope of such a scheme, so does the preparation of emergency landing grounds. No doubt the military authorities have made plans as far as certain districts are concerned. It is very disconcerting, however, that these plans are kept a dark secret. One can only suppose that the intention is to keep them so until the last moment, but then, haste and unfamiliarity would make them more difficult to carry out. Surely prior knowledge of such arrangements can have no possible value to an enemy’* Foreknowledge by the people most concerned would obviate most of the panic and confusion which would ensue were an emergency suddenly sprung upon them.
There are over 1,000 local governing authorities throughout Australia with an annual revenue approaching £30,000,000, with trained staffs and intimate local knowledge; but up to the present they are as much in the dark as anybody else. After nearly a year of war noi one communication, j am informed, has passed between the Defence Department and the municipalities. Cannot the Government realize that lack of trust begets lack of trust, that the best wa;> to rally the people behind it, is to give responsible bodies work to do, commensurate with their resources and capabilities? Most people, if they think of it at all, regard evacuation as getting themselves and their families to a vague place, generally referred to as “ somewhere inland “. Perhaps they give some thought to what means of transport they would use, but they leave it at that. This, of course, hardly scratches the subjectProperty must be guarded against thieves and vandals, until the last moment for possible re-occupation; petrol supplies must be destroyed if it be impossible to remove same beforehand. How man service station owners know how to destroy their stocks in a hurry? Byways to evacuees’ destinations must bo thought out so as to leave the highways free for army use. Evacuees must have particulars of what is to be taken with them, when means of transport is limited.
People without cars, the helpless and the stupid have to be cared for; supplies of food must be taken, and what is left behind destroyed. Public utilities nol required for the fighting services must be dismantled, and sheep and cattle driven off or killed. Who is to supervise all this work - personnel from hastily raised units, or from the local authorities whose daily work brings them into contact with the people affected? The strength of the field army must not be frittered away on such duties. On the journey, evacuees must be shepherded and controlled, and temporary shelter of some sort provided for those who travel by road. One assumes that those who travel by train would he left in the competent and kindly hands of the railway men, who are best fitted to do the job. The most difficult problems arise when the evacuees reach their destination. Who is to provide shelter, food and occupation? The vast majority would be without financial resources, whilst people from the urban areas would be unable easily to adapt themselves to the changed conditions. Problems such as these can best be handled by the local authorities who are familiar with the resources of the districts and the people amongst whom the evacuees must live temporarily.
The present war has shown us that defence is more than a conflict between two armies. It is a different war altogether from, previous campaigns. Problems beyond the scope of officials in the Defence Department have to be solved. Who can best tackle those problems? The local authorities, both city and country of course. To succeed, the personnel embodied in any such auxiliary defence duties must he recognized under an official emergency organization. One is already in existence, namely, the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia Volunteers Home Defence Corps, which at present is restricted to ex-service men, organized on a military basis. The scheme to which I have been alluding envisages a far wider scope, and embraces all volunteer mala persons who are ineligible for enrolment in the front line fighting services. Scattered throughout Australia are thousands of middle-aged rifle club men. Though they were sworn in five years ago as Militia reservists, they probably are now too old for acceptance in that force. The majority possess their own rifles, and so would he a decided acquisition to any scheme. Tho merging of a’l latent patriotic personnel in the existing volunteer corps of ex-service men would provide the ideal organization. I suggest that the Government investigate this possibility, and so swing behind it a greater public war effort.
– First, I endorse the complaint hy the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) that honorable senators were not supplied with copies of the ministerial statement until just after the resumption of the debate this afternoon.
– “When they were supplied, they were almost unreadable.
– Tes. That indicates to me that, in the view of the Government, the war is not a major issue so far as the Senate is concerned. It indicates to me also an indirect way by which attempts are being made to discredit the Commonwealth Parliament, and so pave the way to establish in Australia a totalitarian state similar to that which, exists in Germany. If there were the interest in the proceedings of Parliament that some honorable senators would have us believe exists, we would be treated with much more consideration and be given a reasonable opportunity to consider statements made by the Ministers. Also the attendance in this chamber would be better than it is. There is a saying that there are times when we have to wait patiently for the hard school of disillusionment to act when our reasoning fails. It seems to me that that applies to the Commonwealth Parliament as well as to people outside. Possibly it may be in Australia, as it has been overseas, some disaster must occur involving the loss of thousands of valuable lives and the destruction of millions of pounds worth of property before there will he that interest taken in the war that is warranted and is necessary. It seems to me that ‘both by the way in which members are treated and the statement itself has been read that the attempt is being made to convey the impression to all that everything is all right, that we really have nothing to worry about, that the Government is fully capable of doing all ti at is required in. order to develop the defences of this country to the degree necessary. For our information a document has been issued entitled: “What is Australia Doing? War Facts and Figures “. “ With the compliments of C. C. Dawson, Commonwealth Publicity Officer, Canberra “. Most of its contents is mere “ eyewash “ ; and perhaps dangerous. The impression sought to be created is that everything is all right. In the absence of any really worth-while information from the_ Government, reports that we receive from’ authentic sources indicate that in the sources connected with the manufacture of munitions everything is far from being all right. It is dangerous to try to con,vey that impression, and it is something which possibly the Government may live to regret - to regret that it did not take Parliament into its confidence and tell it those things that it could tell, with the object of provoking constructive, even if hostile, discussion, so that suggestions might be made and proposals submitted whereby the whole position might be improved. Instead of that, we have this conspiracy of silence, this conspiracy of make-believe, this conspiracy of conveying false impressions.
Now I come to the statement itself. I have not had the opportunity to study it as critically as it deserves, hut I should say, after the first reading of it, that it is a colourless document, simply a re-hash of what has appeared in the press, and couched in very general terms. The issue of the statement itself suggests to me that the Minister responsible has said to the junior clerk, “ Prepare something on the war for the Senate,” and the junior clerk has said, “ What shall I say, sir ? “, with the reply, “ Anything you like; anything is good enough for the members of the Opposition and the Senate.” That is what it appears to be. It is a carelessly framed word structure couched in general terms which may mean anything or everything. It does not give us anything that would provoke, initiate or help to initiate intelligent, constructive discussion which should take place in a chamber such as this. We have not been told all of the facts. In these circumstances we are forced to rely on our own judgment, and what I am about to say represents my judgment on the facts conveyed to me in reports which I receive from men occupying prominent positions and well qualified to give me information.
As my leader has remarked, the Government has received every consideration from this side of the Senate. We have not asked leading questions about what it is doing. We have, in addition, given to it powers which are unprecedented. I questioned the wisdom of giving such powers, but in the opinion of the Labour movement it was considered that everything should be done to assist it. We have accepted the Government on its face value, and, in return, we are called to Canberra to discuss a perfectly innocuous statement such as this. The whole thing is a farce, a fraud. It is misrepresenting the whole position to the people of this nation upon whom we rely to provide the means by which this country can be defended. The Government is ignoring Parliament. It must be prepared to accept the consequences, and, in passing, I would remind it that none can escape the consequences of his acts. Although it may be considered smart politics to do this sort of thing, those who are responsible will not escape the consequences. There may be the disaster to which I referred, or there may bo justifiable resentment of the people expressed in terms which members of the Government will not forget so long as they live. In any case, that reaction or repercussion is bound to take place. The statement contains this declaration -
The defences of Britain have during the last two months been made so formidable that an invasion by either sea or air or both, would, beyond question, be an undertaking of extreme hazard.
That reads very well, but I do not believe that it is true, and I shall tell the Senate why I do not believe that in England all is being done to defend England that could be done any more than I believe that all is being done that could be done in Australia. I direct attention to a statement which has appeared in the public press, and which, so far as I know, has never been challenged. I assume that it passed the censor in the ordinary way. It appeared in the Melbourne Age of the 2nd August, and was headed “ Financing the War”. It reads -
There is further criticism of what is described as a lack of vigor in Britain’s financial policy and the failure to apply compulsory powers to finance the war effort.
The Financial News editorially states that there are many who think that the bank rate should be forcibly reduced from the present level, and that there are complaints from the agricultural industry that lack of finance has impeded war-time efforts. “The savings campaign as making fair progress on a voluntary basis, but if inflation is to be avoided the authorities should face up to the necessity of instituting some action on stronger lines. Many quarters are being asked why thu institution of compulsory clearings should be so long delayed in the sphere of exchange control,” the journal states.
The Daily Express, which has already advocated a capital levy, returns to the theme, attacking the poor response of “ mon with big money bags “ to the appeal for support for the 2i per cent, war bonds, and declaring that last week’s subscriptions set a record low level of under £10,500,000, of which only £638,000 was interest free. The week’s total subscribed by the “little man” was over £12,500,000 in sixpenny savings stamps, 15s. certificates and £5 defence bonds.
Editorially, the Daily Express states: - “ Do not think the big men are beaten by the little men because the big men are hard up. There is nearly £2,500,000.000 sterling lying in banks, of which only £30,000,000 has been lent to the Treasury. Banks, insurance and financial corporations hold tight thousands of millions sterling needed to buy guns, tanks and planes. If the big men will not respond to appeals for patriotism we must go and get the cash by a capital levy. If they will not give, we must take.
The wealthy interests in England are refraining from either lending or contributing money for the defence of that country. Established publications not identified with the radical or Communist movements, or with any alleged subversive organizations, are saying that morn must be done. Personally I do not think that more will be done, unless increased pressure is exerted by the people of England upon their government. Even what has been done would not have been achieved, had it not been for that pressure, and particularly for the disaster following the despatch of troops to th, continent of Europe. The Government of Great Britain has been forced to act, but, even to-day, action that could be taken is being avoided. I suggest that the reason for this is that there is a school of thought in England that would prefer making the best possible terms with Hitler to facing the probable outcome of this war. That school of thought existed in France, and probably in every other country that has been conquered almost without serious resistance. lt says, in effect, “ We have to make our choice between Hitlerism and a probable state of affairs arising in England similar to that prevailing in Russia “. Whilst that school of thought is afraid to express those opinions openly, it i3 doing the next best thing which it regards as effective. It is withholding the essentials for a better and more formidable defence.
A similar school of thought is to be found in Australia. I base that opinion on the policy to which this Government is committed. Its policy is, as far as it is humanly practicable, to make this war, as was done in the last war, a payable business proposition for .the moneyed interests. I shall refer to a few figures to indicate what was done during the last war. In the publication entitled What is Australia Doing f the probable expenditure in connexion with the present war is set out under the heading “A £453,000,000 programme”. This publication makes a comparison between the expenditure incurred during the last war and that expected during the present war, and it goes on to say -
It is interesting to compare the corresponding expenditure for the war and defence programme of the last war. For the five years of that war the corresponding expenditure was about £270,059,000.
In reply to a question submitted to him on .the 8th December last, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated that the principal cost of the last war was £572,995,845, and that the interest paid amounted to £305,149,140. The point is that the interest cost °f ne ‘as war exceeds considerably the cost of that war during five years, proving that it was made a gilt-edged proposition for the moneyed section, which is still drawing interest in respect of it. lit is clear, therefore, that interests in England which are holding up most effectively the defence preparations being made in Great Britain are responsible for a similar condition of affairs in Australia. This war has been in progress for nearly twelve months, and I suggest that the Government has had ample time to do a great deal more than it has done to prepare for defence. On the 5,th July last 1. addressed the following letter to Mr. J. B. Brigden, secretary to the Department of Supply and Development -
I should be greatly obliged if you would let me have, at your earliest convenience, the number of employees at the munitions establishments in Victoria, and the number registered for employment at this date. This U in confirmation of a telephone message to your Department this afternoon.
To that letter I received the following reply, dated the 10th July : -
With reference to your letter of the 5th July, 1940, I desire to inform you that the number of employees at the munitions factories in Victoria as at the 30th June, 1940, is 8,506 males and 2,139 females, making a total of 10,645. The number registered for employment at the munitions factories in Victoria as at the 30th June, 1940, is 30,839, i.e. 28,700 males and 2,138 females.
If the Government were doing all that is humanly possible to prepare effectively for the defence of this country, there would not he one unemployed man or woman who is capable of working.
– How many of the 2S,700 males have since been employed?
– That is a pertinent question. Even if that figure were reduced by one-half, the number of unemployed would be greater than it should be. According to the figures published in the press, approximately 1,500,000 persons in Great Britain are now unemployed. The paragraph published in the Age newspaper states that approximately £2,500,000,000 of capital is lying idle in Great Britain. Why are so many persons unemployed? It is because those who possess the capital cannot see a profitable way in which to invest it. If unemployed persons could be engaged on work which would show a profit, not one man or woman would be idle. The capitalists in England are not lending their money or giving it to the nation because they are afraid that after the war there may be repudiation of the nation’s war debts and that they will not receive an adequate return of their capital. To them monetary interests are of greater importance than the welfare of the nation. A similar policy operates in this country. If this Government were not committed to a policy of private monopoly, ownership, and control of our financial resources, the capital now lying idle in Australia would
Lave been used long ago and would have provided employment for those able and willing to contribute to the defence of the country. The reason why such a large number of persons in Great Britain are unemployed when the nation is at war is that it is unprofitable for “ fifth columnists “ to invest their capital. They would prefer Hitlerism or Fascism in Great Britain to a possible Russian form of government. Governments as well as individuals cannot escape the consequence of their acts. If an individual is careless or dishonorable in his financial transactions, he has to pay the penalty. A government which controls the affairs of the nation is in a similar position. The British Government cannot escape the consequences of its acts. If, as I suspect, negotiations are proceeding behind the back of the British Parliament to come to terms with Hitler, as was done in France, something serious is likely to happen.
– What does the honorable senator suggest?
– I am saying with all the emphasis at my command that from the information -received from men qualified by education and experience
– Who are they?
– They possess more intelligence than the honorable senator who is interrupting my speech by stupid interjections.
I was surprised to learn that the members of our” defence forces had been informed that they cannot, bring their grievancesbefore their political representatives.
– If it were not for what Britain has done the honorable senator would not be here to-day.
– I would not be so foolish as to suggest that nothing has been done; but what has been accomplished has been under pressure from a section of the British people. I trust that similar pressure will be exerted in Australia. I admit that in England there are many thousands of capable and loyal men and women who are doing their best to direct the attention of the Government to the influence of financial interests upon the nation; but I am referring more particularly to those who are not safeguarding the interests of Britain.
– Who are they?
– If necessaryI could supply the honorable senator with a list of names.
The Labour party has been asked to become associated with a national government. We cannot have a national government true to name unless it gives effect to a national policy. Such a policy cannot be introduced whilst our essential services and industries are controlled by private enterprise. The Government either has to give effect to the policy of the financiers to whom it is responsible, or to one which is in the interests of the nation. If the Labour party were foolish enough to become associated with a national government it would be responsible for some of the things which are now being done. For instance, under the National Security Act, a regulation has been issued providing that an employee shall not leave his employment without the permission of his employer; but the employer can discharge the employee at any moment should he so desire. Employers are given full power over their employees and can demand most unreasonable things tobe done whilst the employee has practically no redress. That is an instance of what is being done by a Government which would have us believe that it is giving effect to a national policy. Employers are masters of the situation. Employees in Australia are placed in a similar position to employees in Germany. If the Government expects to get results by such a policy it will be disillusioned. Another regulation provides that arbitration proceedings must be conducted in camera so that the public will not know what occurs. If proceedings were conducted in open court evidence couldbe adduced and the facts stated-
– Order ! I have given the honorable senator considerable latitude. I must ask him to confine his remarks to the subject-matter of the statement before the Senate.
– I appreciate the consideration which has been shown me, “but I was replying to points raised by Senator Dein. The Assistant Minister’s statement continued -
The relations between Great Britain and Russia are not all that we desire, because the British Government is afraid that any collaboration with Russia may influence the British people to introduce the Russian form of government in Britain. The .Economist, a well-known publication, stated a week ago that we should not be concerned to-day with ideologies, and that, if possible, England should enter into a pact with Russia to the mutual advantage of both countries in time of peace or of war. There again we have an instance of a journal responding to the pressure of public feeling and advocating action which, before and during the war, was strenuously opposed. Therefore, when we hear a statement such as this which does not direct attention to facts, but merely attempts to evade the realities of the situation, we cannot treat it seriously, or regard it as worthy of consideration.
Reference has been made to the possible attitude of Japan. I make no apology for mentioning the name of that country, because it is referred to in the Minister’s statement. Certain negotiations with Japan have recently taken place. At least we have been told so, and I assume that that is the case; hut. as Senator Collings has said, no statement concerning this matter has been made to the Senate. “We do not know positively just what is the relationship between Great Britain and Japan. Was Australia consulted before Great Britain agreed to the closing of the Burma-road, or was this country ignored entirely? The Government does not tell us. Has a request been made to the Commonwealth Government to send troops to focal points at which they may he needed in case of hostilities with Japan? We are not told that either; but, no doubt, should thu position become so critical that it would be dangerous to withhold facts, we shall be told what is happening. That, in effect, would be closing the stable door after the horse had escaped. If we were told now what negotiations have taker place with Japan, and what precisely is our relationship with that country to-cay, it would help the Government and itwould help us. I do not suggest “.hat anything should be said that might make the position of the Government more difficult than it is at present; but we should be told essential facts, so that in the light of intelligent discussion or criticism, the present methods may be altered, if wisdom dictates that course.
One of the later paragraphs in the Minister’s statement reads -
We face the immediate future, therefore, with full realization of the difficulties ahead, but with complete confidence that, by careful and resolute guidance of our affairs, these difficulties ca.i be surmounted.
Apparently the Government is more optimistic than I am, because, knowing the position as I do, I certainly do not face the immediate future with complete confidence. How can we have full confidence when we know (that our war effort is not anything like 100 per cent, efficient? How can we have full confidence when we are treated as if we were so many glorified schoolboys, and told only what, in the view of the Ministers, is absolutely necessary ?
– The honorable senator flatters himself.
– How can we have full confidence when we hear so many stupid interjections by Ministers of the Crown? If the Assistant Minister for Commerce were a member ‘of the military forces and acted in the way he has just done, he would he treated in a way that would leave a lasting impression upon his mind, particularly if he addressed disparaging remarks to superior officers. The Minis! ar’s statement continues -
There is an unbridgeable gulf between the Nazi conception of a Europe dominated by the armed might of Germany and the British aim in this war, which is the restoration of freedom in Europe and the extinction once and for all from Europe and the whole world nf the threat of Hitlerism and all that it stands for.
That paragraph also reads well to the non-critical reader, and is, perhaps, impressive to the subjective reasoner. The statement, however, is superficial and its real meaning is obscure. What is meant by the destruction of “ Hitlerism” ? Does it mean that we are, if possible, to put Hitler up against a wall and shoot him, or does it mean that Hitler stands for a state of society to which we are opposed? The terms used by the Minister are ambiguous, and, in the absence of other information, one has to rely upon one’s own judgment in interpreting them. My opinion is that should Germany be defeated to-morrow, the policy to which this Government and the Government of the United Kingdom are committed would not include the restoration of freedom in Europe. There can be no freedom, in the real sense of the word, whilst a few men have the right to exploit their fellow men for profit; whilst a few men have the right, as they have in England and in Australia to-day, to impoverish the wage-earners, and reduce them to the bread-line.
– What is freedom?
– It is a relative term. My conception of freedom is that the people should be free to please themselves to the extent approximating to the right held by the Minister himself in that connexion; but that, I believe, is not the freedom envisaged in the paragraph which I have just read.
– Now the honorable senator is being ambiguous.
– No ; I am merely trying to discover what is meant by the terms “ Hitlerism “ and “ freedom “. This may all seem to be unjustifiable criticism of the Government, but in my view criticism of the Minister’s statement is warranted. Unless more information is made available to honorable senators concerning the difficulties with which this country is faced and the position which we now occupy in international affairs, and as long as there is any reason to believe that our defence effort is not so effective as it might be, criticism will be voiced from this side of the chamber. At least, so far as I am concerned, the Government will not continue on its way unchallenged when we are given perfectly innocuous and misleading documents such as this. That is the reason why I have criticized the Minister’s statement so fully. If it can be shown that the criticism is unjustified and not beneficial, I shall be the first to admit it; but if the present state of affairs continues, then with whatever ability I have, I shall not only repeat what I have said to-day, but I shall also say much more in elaboration of it in the interests of the people outside who are justly entitled to a much better deal from the Government than they have received up to the present.
– I endorse the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) and Senator Cameron. Actually, the Minister’s statement was merely a resume of what has been published in the press. When members of the Commonwealth Parliament are brought together in Canberra from all parts of Australia, the Government should at least try to give them a little more information than they have received from the censored press. The Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Curtin) advocated the holding of a secret session in order to permit the freest and frankest discussion of the war .position. We, on this side of the chamber, are considerably handicapped because certain statements are made to us by outsiders and, not knowing whether they are true or not, we are reluctant to argue them because we fear that anything we may say may have a bad effect upon the public mind.
– Honorable senators can approach the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. McEwen) privately and ask for whatever information they desire.
– That is a good suggestion, and I shall act upon it in the future.
The public is constantly being told in *he press and in wireless broadcasts that they must not be pessimistic, and must not take notice of rumour-mongers. Would not the better way to combat such rumours be to tell the public the truth? That is my opinion. The Master who died 2000 years ago said, “ Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free “. So far as the war is concerned it would be better to tell the people of this country the whole truth. But it seems to be the considered opinion of the Government that much of the truth must be kept from the people, because it is afraid of them, and does not trust them. For this reason it refuses to tell tha people the full facts in relation to the prosecution of the war. Honorable senators on this side are afraid to ask certain questions because of the effect which the answers may have upon the public mind. That is the stand taken by the majority of the members of my party. A few of my colleagues contend that it would be better, perhaps, that the whole of the truth were told to the people. If Ministers will not tell us the whole truth openly, because they are afraid to trust the people, is it not possible to hold a secret session in order that we may gain the whole truth on matters which the Government refuses to divulge in the full light of clay? If, through a secret session, the Government can re-assure us as to the effectiveness of its war effort, then such a session of this Parliament would be justified. If the Government will not consent to hold a secret session, and, at the same time, intends to maintain secrecy in regard to any of its activities, then it will be our duty, as responsible members of the legislature, to ask openly questions on which we cannot now secure the whole truth.
– The honorable senator and his colleagues refuse to accept responsibility by participating in the formation of a national government.
– We are living in critical times; we do not know what might happen within the next few weeks. We do not know how the Eastern question will be resolved. Consequently, every member of this Parliament is anxious to refrain from doing anything that would jeopardize our war effort. I know that Senator Dein is convinced that it is the duty of Labour members in this Parliament to become part and parcel of a national government. We are convinced that we can best do our duty to the people by remaining an effective opposition.
It has been said repeatedly by honorable senators ‘opposite and in some sections of the press, that the Labour movement is not doing its duty towards the people because it refuses to accept responsibility in a national government. We accept the responsibility that has been placed upon our shoulders by the people who sent us here. As part and parcel of a democratic parliamentary system we must accept responsibility even as an opposition. In Parliament we criticize and question the Government, and debate policies. When policies have been resolved and put into operation, we must accept responsibility in the larger sense for such policies as part and parcel of our democratic system. At this moment of gathering darkness for Australia all of us realize what has happened in France and in the other countries which have fallen to Hitler. We know that if the conqueror of those countries should conquer Australia the Opposition in this Parliament would be “ in the soup “ just as surely as would honorable senators opposite. I have no illusions in this matter. If Australia falls, our parliamentary system will be eliminated, and all members of Parliament, irrespective of party, will be interned in concentration camps. Members of this chamber have responsibilities as leaders of two sections of the people. In times of peace we on this side have carried out our duty as an Opposition, and in this time of war we shall continue to discharge that duty. But should Australia be defeated, we, as responsible leaders of the people, shall suffer. We shall know what it is to be dragged from our seats, and treated as have been some members of the Government of France who to-day are on trial for their lives. Unless we get together solidly in the prosecution of our war effort it is possible that before many months pass Ave also shall be on trial far our lives. However, I agree with my leader that we on this side can best serve the people as a strong, forceful and intelligent Opposition until we become the Government. Surely there is nothing wrong with that point of view. I say to Senator Dein in all friendliness that members of the Opposition are as serious as he is in this matter. I say fairly and squarely to the honorable senator that the Government has an opportunity to resolve this matter of responsibility. If it is aware of an inferiority complex, or feels that it has not the men capable of carrying on the arduous task of government in war-time, it can immediately appeal to the people. Let that appeal be made. I have been among the people in many centres throughout the Commonwealth, and I know that they now say, “Let us clear the air; let the issue be made plain, and let the people be given an opportunity to say who shall govern; let us not continue the bickering that is going on among political parties at present “. Let the people say who should govern, and when they have given their verdict let those selected to govern do their job. Let us end the pendulum politics which has been so evident during the last few months.
The people are quite sick of the manner in which this Government is playing with important issues. I do not wish to disparage personally any honorable senator opposite. I have the greatest respect for every member of this Parliament. Only to-day, when a man with whom I was talking bitterly criticized a member of this Government, who, by the way, has himself been the most bitter critic of the Labour party, I replied that during my eight years’ experience in this Parliament I had found members generally, irrespective of party, as decent a collection of men as could be discovered in any other section of society. I disagree with the conception of politicians as a tribe somewhat apart from ordinary individuals. However, I emphasize that the country is sick of the pusillanimity of the Government in respect of several important issues which have arisen lately.
Petrol rationing is important, although some people are inclined to regard it merely as a side issue. Some time ago the Minister for Supply and Development (Sir Frederick Stewart) made a statement on this matter, and every one was under the impression that he expressed the considered opinion of the Government. Consequently they accepted as inevitable his statement that petrol was to be rationed. They agreed that some people would have to put their cars on the stocks, whilst others would have to rely upon fuel other than petrol. But within a few days we were told that the statement made by the Minister did not represent the considered opinion of the Government, and the proposal he outlined was cast aside. Subse quently, two additional members were appointed to the Liquid Fuel Control Board, and within a day or two we expect to have the considered opinion of that body. The result of this confusion has been that hundreds of men throughout Australia have been thrown out of employment because so many businesses have been jeopardized. We of the Opposition say that if it is necessary to ration petrol, then it must be rationed, If our fight for democracy against totalitarianism involves a course which will result in the disintegration of every business in the country, then such a course must he accepted as inevitable, if its adoption means that we shall win out against those who are trying to force upon us other ideologies. But, how utterly stupid is the spectacle of a Minister announcing publicly a scheme for the rationing of petrol, and then three days later the Government saying that it has not considered such a proposal. In this instance the Government said, in effect, “ Sir Frederick Stewart put that plan before you, but it is not our plan “. The people are heartily sick of such action. To-day they say : “ If we knew where we stood, well and good; we should accept the Government’s decision as something arising out of the war. But we have a government that does not know its own mind, and it is time that we had as leaders Ministers who do not do things off their own bat and without consulting their Prime Minister at a time when the democratic institutions of this country are in jeopardy.” We need a strong leader, who will not tolerate independent action by minor Ministers. We want a man who will be a leader in the real sense of the word.
Surely our democratic system is as capable of producing leaders as is the totalitarian system. However, we have not got such a leader to-day. I have the highest personal regard for the Prime Minister, but his Cabinet includes several budding duces and fuhrers. These men have a conception of democracy entirely different from tha.t held by the ordinary citizen. They want to rule on their own. If the Prime Minister is not strong enough to lead, then the country must find a man capable of doing so. 1 repeat that the Government should go to the people in order to let them decide who shall govern this country in the present crisis. Then let whatever government is elected carry on its work for the next three years with all the forcefulness at its command. Let us put an end to the pusillanimity of the present Government, and the bickering which we have witnessed within the last few months. A continuance of such a state of affairs will surely destroy democracy, because until a government can make up its mind it cannot hope to secure the backing of the people. No one deplores more than I do the disagreement which has been evident within the Labour movement. The majority of honorable senators on this side wholeheartedly support the Australian Labour party. We have one or two good friends who have seen fit lately, to leave the party. There is a struggle in the Country party. If what the papers tell us is true, its members are fighting about who shall be leader. In the United Australia party, too, there is dissension. These things, intensified and enlarged upon by the press, are the things that are destroying the people’s conception of democracy.
The Labour party is anxious that the best shall be done for Australia in the way of defence. A friend of mine was talking the other day to a man whose identity, for obvious reasons, I cannot disclose, though I may say that he is among the highest in the land. His name, if I mentioned it, would surprise honorable senators. That man, whom I also know, although I have not seen him for some time, was fearfully worried, troubled and upsetbecause of the lack of defence measures in Queensland. I shall not go any further than that, although.Icouldsayanumberof things about Queensland defences. It is all right to publish figures. That is the political game, and it is necessary, I suppose, to keep the people buoyed up. But we know that we could do far more than we are doing, and, when a. man of the high standing occupied by the man I mentioned says the things he does say, we must be very much worried indeed. This booklet, What is Australia Doing?, says -
What is Australia doing in this war? What has been done? What is going to be done in the next two or three months?
Three types of people ask these questions - (a) those who have un- Australian sympathies and want to damage our war effort;
They are a very small portion of this community.
I have no desire whatever to score at the expense of the Government, but I must be frank; otherwise I would be recreant to the trust placed in me.
That is the position which I hope is taken up by every one in this chamber. That is my position, and that is why I speak as I do.
Another aspect ofthis matter is that we feel, rightly or wrongly, that the Government is composed of a number of “yesmen “ ; that oh a number of matters vital to the conduct of the war and affecting Australia this Government has not taken a definite and determined stand. Newspaper editorials have frequently called upon this Government to have a greater voice in the councils of the Empire instead of being merely “ yes-men “. The position in the Pacific is one on which Australia should be heard. I understand that Norway and other allies of Great Britain have representatives on Britain’s War Council, but Australia has none. I hope that the Minister will tell me whether that is right or wrong.I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
. - by leave - With regret I inform the Senate of the death of former Senator Colonel James Rowell, C.B., who died at Lockleys, South Australia, on the 6th July last. ColonelRowell was elected to the Senate at the general election in 1917 and was a senator until 1923. He was temporary Chairman of Committees from March, 1923, until the expiration of his term on the 30th June, 1923. Colonel Rowell had a distinguished military career. He commanded the South Australian detachment of military forces to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, in 1897. He commanded the 4th Imperial
Bushmen’s Regiment in South Africa from May, 1900, to August, 1901. In 1900 he was made a Companion of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath. During the last war he served as officer commanding troops on transports to Egypt and England from April, 1915, to March, 1917. I express to his family sincere sympathy in their bereavement. I move -
That the Senate expresses its sincere regret at the death of former Senator Colonel James Rowell, C.B., places on record its appreciation of his distinguished public service, and extends its sincere sympathy to the members of his family in their bereavement.
SenatorCOLLINGS (Queensland - Leader of the Opposition) [6.12]. - It is fitting that I should associate the Opposition with the motion. We agree with what the Leader of the Senate (Senator McLeay) has said and extend our sympathy to the members of the family of the late Colonel Rowell.
– It would ill-become me, as one who knew the late Colonel Rowell for the best part of half a century, not to pay tribute to his memory, not for the official services that he rendered this country, not even for the distinguished military service that was mentioned by the Leader of the Government, but because he was a man - one of Nature’s gentlemen - whom this country can illafford to lose. He was a well-known horticulturist and was a descendant of a family which had engaged in horticulture for. centuries in the Old World. With his people he settled in South Australia. He was a perfect soul who never told a lieor turned away from danger. I pay my tribute to his memory. He was a man whom it was good to know.
– I associate the Country party with this motion. I did not have the privilege of knowing the deceased gentleman, but one feels that, when a man has the public spirit to go forth and brave the storms of public life, and has the splendid character that Senator A. J. McLachlanhas outlined, we ought to express our regret when he joins the harvest of the grim Reaper.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable senators standing in their places.
Motion (by Senator Dein) - by leave - agreed to -
That three months leave of absence toe grunted to Senator Wilson on account of military service.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) proposed : -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
SenatorFRASER (Western Australia) [6.16]. - Although months have passed since the Government decided to erect a military hospital at Perth and plans were prepared and sent to Canberra, no action has yet been taken to call tenders for the building, or to do any of the preliminary work. Many cases of illness have occurred among the troops in the State and the lack of hospital accommodation is serious; so serious that the military authorities have had to take over the recently’ erected addition to the mental home. I should like the Leader of the Senate (Senator McLeay) to draw the attention of the responsible Minister to the delay and impress upon him the urgency of the work being undertaken.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at Heidelberg, Victoria - For Defence purposes.
National Security Act - National Security (General) Regulations - Orders -
Taking possession of land, Ac. (15). Use of land (9).
Northern Australia Survey Act - Report of the Committee appointed to direct and control the Aerial, Geological and Geophysical Survey of Northern Australia, for the period ended 31st December, 1939.
Land Tax Assessment Act- List of Applications for Belief dealt with during the year 1939-40.
Rabbit Skins Export Charges Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1940, No. 149.
Senate adjourned at6.18 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 7 August 1940, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1940/19400807_senate_15_164/>.