17th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Leader of the Senate read the report appearing in one of the daily newspapers to-day that orders sent by the Prime Minister calling upon transportworkers to return to work have been returned to the Prime Minister by registered post? If that be so, can he advise the Senate how long the present policy of the Government with regard to the coal-mining industry is to be continued?
– I have not read the report referred to, and I shall require more evidence than a press report to convince me that that has happened.
formal Motion for Adjournment.
– I have received from Senator Poll an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ Dissatisfaction felt by members of this Parliament atthe lassitude displayed by the Curtin Government towards the members ofthis Parliament in relation to matters of national concern, such as are contained in a guarded review of the Australian Advisory War Council meeting held yesterday, and the refusal of the Government to call a secret session of the Parliament “.
– I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at9 a.m.
– Is the motion supported ?
Four honorable senators having risen in support of the motion,
– If my memory serves me aright, this is the first occasion on which a comprehensive review has been published of the activities of the Advisory WarCouncil. The publication of the report this morning is probably due to the limelight thrown on the activities of the Council during the debates at the meetings of the United Australia party, which resulted in the resignation of two senior members of the Council. Honorable senators will remember that the Council came into being as the result of a series of invitations issued in the dark days of the war by the Leader of the Government at that time (Mr. Menzies) to the present Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and his followers to join in forming a national government. The Labour party, for reasons best known to itself, refused by an overwhelming majority to assist in the formation of such a government, although it was well known that a substantial number of members of the party would have agreed to the proposal at that time. On the suggestion of the present Prime Minister that the Council should he formed, it eventually came into existence. It was considered that the meetings of the Council provided a bridgehead to a realization of what was, I believe, the desire of the Parliament and the people that an all-party administration should he formed to carry on the government for the duration of the war. It was hoped that the establishment of the Council would lead to the formation of a national government, .but unfortunately that hope was not realized. The Council has gradually diminished in status, until to-day it is little more than a mutual admiration society.
The present feeling of dissatisfaction has not merely arisen recently, but has persisted over a long period. Earlier action with regard to the Council would have been taken but for the fact that some of the members in the Opposition parties desired, as experienced members, to assist new members. The Curtin Government, prior to the last general elections, gave a pledge that it would concentrate 100 .per cent, on matters relating to the war. Up to the time of the elections, the Government, generally speaking, carried out its promise in that regard, but, as the result of its overwhelming victory at the polls, it has now ceased to .be purely a war government, and the bulk of its time is spent, either in arguments at its own- caucus meetings or in endeavouring to formulate proposals in conformity with its party platform. This matter waa finally brought to a head when a responsible Minister made utterances in this Parliament which were utterly unworthy of any member, let alone a Minister in a cabinet in the British Empire. Those utterances were whitewashed by the Prime Minister, and, before the matter could be freely discussed in the Parliament, the gag “ was applied. The United Australia party considered that to be the last straw, as far as it was concerned, and it declined to continue the partnership in the Advisory War Council in any circumstances. Probably I should not have raised this matter to-day but foi
Senator Foll. the fact that this morning, for the first time, a review is published in the press of the business that was brought before the Council for discussion yesterday. I remind the Leader of the Senate (Senator Keane) that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) and I, on several occasions recently, have asked him whether the Government would give consideration to the holding of a one-day secret meeting of this Parliament, in order that certain matters in relation to the conduct of the war might be freely discussed. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) and other members of the Parliament are anxious to discuss those matters as freely us possible, and, if the Government considers that difficulty would arise as a result of a discussion in open session, we asked for an opportunity to bring certain matters before’ the Government at a secret meeting, but that request has been refused. Quite a controversy has occurred in this Parliament during the last few weeks regarding certain appointments and transfers of highly placed military officers and matters of that kind.
– It is quite improper’ to discuss those matters in this Parliament. To jo hears all this.
– Before any of those matters were mentioned in this chamber or in the House of Representatives, a request was made that an opportunity should be given to discuss them at a. secret meeting, but that was refused. Matters of that kind are often discussed in open session in the British House of Commons, and they are discussed also at secret meetings of the British Parliament. The Government has attempted to “gag” discussion of any kind that might be uncomfortable for it.
– We object to discussions that would be of value to Tojo.
– That is an old bogy, which the Minister has raised many times. All members of the Opposition desire the defeat of the enemy as quickly as possible, but as free representatives of the people we have the right to express our views on any matters concerning the war effort, provided security considerations are not infringed. As members of Parliament, we have the right to ask the Government to allow us to discuss these matters, if not in open session, at a secret meeting.
– The honorable senator is not in the team, but he quarrels with the umpire.
– I am glad to bear the Minister interjecting, because it shows that be has recovered bis normal health. In my opinion, the Government has referred matters to the Advisory War Council for a considerable time in order that the members of the Council, knowing that they were under an oath of secrecy, would be unable to discuss them in Parliament. That had an important bearing on the attitude of the United Australia party in deciding to sever its connexion with the Council. This body has been used by the Government in order that members of the Council would be handicapped with regard to debates in Parliament.
Let us now consider the -report published in the press to-day regarding what happened at the meeting of the Advisory War Council yesterday. I should like honorable senators who have seen the official statement which appears in this morning’s press to tell me why it is necessary to have a’ meeting of the War Advisory Council, occupying the time of five senior Ministers and of four or five members of the Opposition, with their private secretaries, as well as Army officials with their staffs, to discuss a report submitted by the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) on the treatment of Australian prisoners of war. I realize that this is a most important matter, but it is not one to be discussed in secret by the War Advisory Council. It should be discussed openly in this Parliament, because every member is -concerned with the treatment of Australian prisoners of war. I point out that this subject was discussed freely and openly in the British House of Commons a few weeks ago, and we were all appalled at revelations which were then made. Every member of this Parliament desires that Australian prisoners of war shall be released as quickly as possible, and that while they remain in enemy hands their lot shall, if possible, be improved, and, therefore, the subject should be one for open dis cussion in the Parliament. The official statement given to the press contains the following paragraph: -
A report waa considered on the incidence of malaria on the Australian Military Forces in New Guinea.
Is not that also a matter in which every member of this Parliament is interested? Why should the discussion of it be confined to a few members who, as members of the War Advisory Council, are bound by an oath of secrecy? Hitherto, we had been led to believe that the War Advisory Council played some part in major war strategy, but it now appears that that body deals largely with matters which should be freely discussed in open sittings of the Parliament. It may be that some aspects of the various subjects dealt with by the Council should not be discussed in public; in such cases, we on this side would willingly consent to discuss them at a secret sitting. The War Advisory Council then presented a bouquet to itself, as the following paragraph shows: -
The comprehensive and diverse nature of the subjects on the business sheet are a typical illustration of the value placed on the Council in the direction of the Commonwealth war effort.
I have not moved this motion merely to discuss the Advisory War Council, but also to urge that an opportunity be’ presented to the Parliament generally to discuss matters relating to the war. During the present sittings the Minister for External Affairs read in the House of Representatives . a prepared statement in relation to the war. Any member of this Parliament could have prepared a similar statement if ‘he had a pair of scissors and some sticking paste, because there was nothing in the Minister’s statement which members of this Parliament had not read previously in the newspapers. A “hush hush” policy is being followed in relation to the war, whilst many of the statements which are issued from time to time on behalf of the Government tend to create the impression that the war is practically over. Consequently, it is not altogether surprising that some sections of the people display complacency in relation to the country’s war effort. Recently I read that the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) had suggested that the only information to be supplied to the public regarding what was happening in Government circles should be what was contained in “ hand-outs “ issued by the Department of Information. That would be a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.
– That is an entirelywrong statement.
– This morning’s Sydney Daily Telegraph contains a leading article relating to an exhibition of Pacific war pictures in London, in which it is stated that an official of the British Ministry of Information had said -
Well, the fact is we try to get pictures from Australia, but in quality, quantity and topicality they do not begin to compare with those supplied by the American Office of War Information.
I understand that a censorship order was recently issued by the Government that no officer above the rank of captain who was in an operational area was to be mentioned by name. I was pleased to see that one of the first results of the free and frank discussion in this Parliament in relation to the higher command a few weeks ago resulted in the two Commanders-in-Chief in the Pacific sending messages of congratulations to the generals who were in command of certain operations in New Guinea. Our American allies do not hesitate to publish the names of officers who render brilliant service. What is the reason for this “ hush hush “ policy in connexion with the censorship? Why should we not give credit to men who are doing good work, asis done by our Allies? The exhibition of Pacific war pictures in London took place after the conclusion of a difficult campaign in New Guinea by Australians, yet not one Australian photograph depicting any of the incidents in connexion with that campaign was on exhibition.
– How does the honorable senator know that the report which he quoted is correct?
– I think that I am entitled to accept as correct a statement attributed to an official of the British Ministry of Information. I am disturbed when I reflect that this Parliament is not being given the. opportunity to discuss matters which are freely discussed in other Parliaments of the British
Empire. One effect is that the people of this country are becoming too complacent about the progress of the war. That, in turn, affects the country’s war effort. The United Australia party has acted wisely in deciding to withdraw its members from the Advisory War Council, because by so doing it has removed some of the chains with which it has been fettered. Its action must not be misconstrued to suggest that its members will not gladly do all within their power to assist the Government in its war effort. I say without hesitation that the Advisory War Council has outlived its usefulness and has ceased to have any value. Indeed, it has become a danger, in that senior members of the Parliament, who should be free to discuss matters affecting the country’s war effort have been greatly handicapped because of their oath of secrecy as members of the Council. I hope that this debate, if it does nothing else, will bring home to the Government the need to cease its “ hush hush “ policy, and to restore to the Parliament, subject to the requirements of security, the opportunity to discuss matters relating to the war. But what is even more important, I hope that the Government will not encourage the belief that the war is practically won, thereby creating a spirit of complacency among the people.
– I shouldnot have taken part in this debate at this stage had not Senator Foil’s speech emphasized the need for honorable senators to take stock of the position in the world generally and in this country of Australia before saying things which do not redound to the credit of those who say them, or of this Parliament, or of this great country. It is easy to make a destructive speech.
– The Minister should know something about that subject.
– I admit I have had some experience along those lines. The results of the destructive speeches made by members of this side when they were in opposition was seen in the overwhelming majority with which the Labour Government was returned at the recent elections. I have presumed to participate in the discussion at this stage because I believe that it is essential that attention should be drawn to the place of the Senate in the legislative machinery of this country. The Senate is a most important part of that machinery. It is frequently said that it is the duty of an Opposition to oppose, but I submit that that is not so unless the Opposition is really of the opinion that proposals submitted by the Government of the day should properly be resisted. I do not want to say anything that will reflect in any sense upon members of the Opposition in this chamber; but I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact, which reference to Hansard will confirm, that when we on this side were in opposition most, if not all, of our speeches, although destructive in some respects, at least bore evidence of constructive ability.
– They were milestones.
– Yes, milestones on the road of progress which this nation has made politically during the last quarter of a century. .Some of Senator Foil’s remarks reveal that his difficulty is not with his tonsils but farther up. Tojo, and the Axis power he represents, only came into the war since this Government assumed office. Therefore, while I was a member of the Opposition I could not have made any statement, as the honorable senator said, that we must not do anything to help Tojo. The fact is that we are at wax.
– Did it start only when Japan came in?
– That is the Government’s view.
– I know that honorable senators opposite will not agree with some of the things I am going to say, but I ask them at least not to make silly interjections. I say that when Japan came into the war the really tremendously serious part of the struggle so far as Australia was concerned commenced. I know that the Government which Senator McBride supported was in the present struggle on behalf of Australia long before J apan came into the war; but, as all honorable senators know, it was only when that country struck that the Australian people became vitally aware of the situation existing at that time. The picture I want to give to the Senate this morning is this : Unless we are careful, we may fail to realize that this issue which baa been sprung upon the Senate is much more far-reaching in its character than the mere verbiage of the motion which the honorable senator has moved. The world is at war, and the struggle is between the United Nations and the Axis powers. The further vitally important fact is that democracy is on trial, and this House of the National Parliament, in common with the rest of our democratic institutions, is also very definitely on trial. I could appropriately conclude my remarks at this point if I thought that the powers of perception of honorable senators opposite were sufficient to enable them to understand what I have just said. However, I do not propose to close my speech at this stage. I regret that I did not have an opportunity to persuade Senator Foll to refrain from making the very regrettable speech he has made. I admit that the honorable senator spoke with perfect sincerity and honesty of purpose. But bis speech is an unworthy and undesirable contribution to the situation which confronts us as members of the Senate. Let us look at some of Senator Foil’s statements. I hold no brief for non-government members of the Advisory War Council, but I am not prepared as a member of this Senate to sit in silence and hear those gentlemen slandered, even by a member of their own party in this chamber, and allow such statements to go unchallenged. Rather cleverly, Senator Foll said that the Advisory War Council was created because some people believed that it would form a bridgehead in the direction of enabling a national government to be established. I do not propose to deal with the merits of a national government versus the Government which is in office at present. The arguments on that matter are old, and have been thrashed out in this chamber over and over again. From the moment that proposal was made, the anti-Labour powers, backed by their syndicalized press and radio stations, began to make an impudent demand for a national government. But members of the Labour party, both inside and outside of Parliament, were determined that no national government would ever be formed with our cooperation, and not one member of our party has ever wavered for a moment on that point. The issue of a national government is dead and buried, and has no chance of a glorious resurrection while the Labour party remains in office. The fact is that, despite any pious hopes on the matter, the bridgehead which was to lead to the formation of a national government was not formed. However, the Advisory War Council was established; and it was established, on the advice of the then Leader of the Opposition in the House ofRepresentatives, who is now the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), before this Government assumed office. Senator Foll is a representative in this chamber of the great State of Queensland. Like myself, he depends upon the votes of the people of that State for his presence here. I ask him not to say things even in the heat of the moment which will not redound to the credit of the people of Queensland who give their votes to him in preference to me. Let us look at some of those who until recently were the nonGovernment members of the Advisory War Council. First, we have the present Leader of the Opposition in the House ofRepresentatives (Mr. Menzies). Politically, I do not like Mr. Menzies; but nobody can say that at all times and in all circumstances Mr. Menzies is not a gentleman, or that he is not honest or sincere in the opinions he holds. Yet, Senator Foll says that Mr. Menzies, sitting as a member of the Advisory War Council, has deliberately had his mouth closed, that he was made a member of the Council in order that, owing to the oath of secrecy, his voice should be silenced in the House of Representatives. That is what Senator Foll says happened to Mr. Menzies. On behalf of Mr. Menzies, with whose political ideas I have no sympathy whatever, I say that the honorable senator’s statement is a dastardly and cowardly attack on Mr. Menzies, and on his behalf I resent it. The next non-Government member of the Council is the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who has not yet quite made up his mind as to whether he should remain a member of the Council. Mr. Menzies did make up his mind.
– Hear, hear !
– Yes, but the fact is that in spite of his political courage and honesty, and in spite of the fact that he resigned from the Council, he is not protected from the slander that has been uttered about him in this chamber. Neither do I like the right honorable member for North Sydney politically; but nobody will claim that because he was given a seat on the Advisory War Council his mouth was shut. If there is one outstanding characteristic of William Morris Hughes itis that no political power, or situation, has ever been able to close his mouth. That is why he has always been in trouble whether he has been a member of the Labour party or the party supported by the honorable senators opposite, or any other party. However, on his behalf I protest against the slanderous statements made about his political character.
– As a member of the Cabinet, is not the Minister himself definitely restricted in debates in which he participates in this chamber?
– Senator Foll knows that every member of this chamber has taken an oath similar to that which members and Ministers of the Advisory War Council have taken. All of us give a similar pledge.
– The only difference is that we are pledged according to our status here, and others according to their status in another place. Once any member of this Parliament takes the oath required of him as a member of this Parliament, is he not, in the name of all that is decent and honest, obliged to stick to it? Do honorable senators opposite mean to tell me that the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) allows himself to be bound and gagged, and cribbed, cabined and confined, because of the oath he has taken as a member of the Council? On behalf of the right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) and the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) I also express my resentment of the statements made by Senator Foll about them.
– I said nothing about them personally.
– The honorable senator said that the government of the day which brought into being the Advisory War Council-
– I said this Government.
– The honorable senator said that the government of the day put those men into that position in order that they would not be free agents when speaking in their places in Parliament.
– That is a deliberate untruth. I said that the present Government is using the Advisory War Council for that purpose.
– I revert to the’ point I made earlier. Democracy is on trial. The Senate is part and parcel of the democratic institutions of this country and the British Commonwealth of Nations. We are very proud of the parliamentary traditions of the British Commonwealth of Nations. All of us, including Senator Foll with all his shortcomings, and they. are obvious, are anxious to see democracy work. Conduct such as we have witnessed in this chamber yesterday and to-day is not conducive to the successful working of democracy. It is not desirable that hours should be wasted in idle debate which deals with no concrete business, from which no definite results can flow, and from which, when the division bells ring, whichever side wins must secure only a barren victory. If honorable senators opposite want this Parliament to work, to stand high in the opinion of the country, and to make a worthwhile contribution to the progress of Australia and the other democratic countries of the world, I ask that we may not be subjected to-day, in the conduct of this debate, to any further speeches of the character of the one to which we have just listened. I say that with all respect. Regrettable as the motion is, and unworthy as the reasons for bringing it forward appear to be, it is still possible, if not to lift the debate onto a worthy plane, at least to prevent it from sinking down to the base level to which the honorable senator who introduced the motion took it.
– I remind the Leader of the Senate (Senator Keane) that some days ago Senator Foll raised matters of the utmost importance in connexion with the Army, hut so far no statement in reply has been made by Ministers. As regards the present motion, relating to .a secret meeting to discuss certain subjects, I appreciate the contention of the Minister for the Interior (Senator Collings) that the debate should be conducted on a high plane. We all know the seriousness of the war, and the feelings of people not only in this Parliament but also in the country generally, whose own flesh and blood are offering their lives in, combat. I look upon this as a matter of very great importance. I regret the necessity for the discussion that took place here recently and in the House of Representatives yesterday as to whether the policy of General Blarney is right or wrong. The discussion has been given great publicity already. I am certain that that publicity will have a very bad effect on the morale and discipline of the soldiers themselves, and do great harm to all those who are particularly interested in our present problems. But the debate took place in open session only because the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) refused a request by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), and also a request from this chamber, for a secret meeting of senators and members to discuss the subjects referred to.
– That is a flimsy excuse.
– The honorable senator is talking utter nonsense. The conduct of the war should come first. Have we not a perfect right, in view of our interest in these problems, to ask Ministers questions, and demand answers from them in secret, in the interests of the fight that is taking place?
Behind the motion this morning is a further appeal to the Leader of the
Senate to request the Prime Minister to reconsider his previous decision. I have mentioned before that in my opinion the Leader in the House of Representatives, when we were in office and at present, has not always treated this chamber with the respect that it deserves. I appeal to the Leader of the Senate to see that the rights which we possess under the Constitution are treated with some respect by the Prime Minister. I can assure him that I shall give him all the support I can to see that that is accomplished.
There are matters which I am anxious to raise in connexion with the Army. As members of Parliament we .all have rights. Mothers and fathers of service personnel come to us and raise questions of great importance. Requests are made to us which we send on to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), and, after waiting for two months, we get replies which are simply ludicrous. Recently, I received a deputation from parents whose sons were stretcher-bearers in the 2/8 Battalion. They were overseas for approximately three years. They spent a considerable time in enemy camps as prisoners of war and were finally repatriated to Australia. Here they were given a fortnight’s leave and sent straight to New Guinea. I have a statement in writing from the father of a soldier in the 2/27 Battalion, who said that the men in the Australian Imperial Force in New Guinea had been sent into battle time and time again, when unfit, after they had been in hospital with malaria. Reports of that kind come through, and a great deal of harm is done if publicity is given to them, but if a secret meeting is not allowed and we are denied the right to put the case of those members of the Australian Imperial Force who are being asked to do more than their share, we must bring up the complaints in Parliament. The information has come from so many quarters that I believe that our treatment of some of the units of the Australian Imperial Force has been inhuman. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) talks about the number of men in the Army, but we cannot help thinking of the few who have been sent into action again and again. As they go on beyond the line that the Curtin Government has drawn, even on to Tokyo, what hope will there be of the survival of a number of the best men that Australia has produced? Surely we, as representatives of the people, are entitled to raise these matters and to enter a protest against what has been done. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to defend the High Command and make excuses. If the High Command had an “ open go “, and was not held back by the Government, such inhuman treatment would not take place. The rights of members are being denied to them by the Government, with its large majority in the House of Representatives and its prospective large majority in this chamber. I make the considered statement that State Premiers, members of State Parliaments and union officials have been given information by the Prime Minister which has been denied to members of this Parliament. That is wrong. If the Government is not prepared to arrange a secret meeting at which we can discuss these matters we have no alternative but to take the action which Senator Foll has taken to-day in order to bring them to the notice of the people.
The members of our party who have attended meetings of the Advisory “War Council have been asked if there was anything that they thought the Prime Minister would allow them to tell us, because we were all interested, but not one of them would break the oath of secrecy. The reports that come to me show that when in Opposition some who are now Ministers and who were members of the Advisory “War Council used to make statements to the Labour caucus about matters discussed in the Council.
– That is wrong.
– In fairness to the Leader of the Senate, I admit that it is difficult for the Prime Minister and members to know where the line should be drawn, but the Minister will, I am sure, agree that if it is right for a few members of the Opposition to have certain information given to them it is right that all members of the Parliament should be taken into the Prime Minister’s* confidence, and given the information which, I feel sure, the Prime Minister would be prepared to give us at secret meetings. At the last secret meeting, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley), in particular, answered questions and furnished information on a number of points that satisfied me. I felt that the meeting was quite helpful. I am sure that now that the Government is within measurable distance of having a majority in both Houses it will not attempt to deny the Opposition, however weak we are, the rights to which we are entitled. I make no excuse for supporting the motion. I make a final appeal to the Leader of the Senate to see that justice is done to this chamber, that the rights of honorable senators, who are only 36 in number, are preserved, and that they may be given all the information to which they are entitled.
– Senator Foll told the chamber of the generous offer made by the Menzies Government to join with the Labour party to form a national government. The Labour party was first offered four seats in the Cabinet. Later the number was raised to six, and still later the party was offered equal representation. But the Menzies Government knew full well that the Australian Labour party conference in Melbourne, whose decisions are binding on the party, had decided that members of the party “must not join another party in forming a government. Just before the last Commonwealth elections the position regarding a national government was summed up by the Treasurer of Tasmania, the Honorable E. Dwyer Gray, in the following statement, published in the columns of the Tasmanian press - a statement that Mr. Dwyer Gray was afraid would not be published unless he paid for it: -
Mr. Spender called Mr. Curtin and three of his leading colleagues “ arrant curs “. Mr. W. M. Hughes said: “The present Government are isolationists, defeatists, and disloyalists. Their spiritual home is Russia. They spit on the name of the Empire.” Mr. Menzies and Mr. Fadden have been equally vituperative, yet these gentlemen and their associates, if they are elected, propose to ask these isolationists and defeatists to join them in the formation of a national government. If they believe the accusations they make against the present Government, they themselves are liars and traitors, for who but liars and traitors would ask these men to form a government in this time of national peril? If, on the other hand, they do not believe ‘these accusations, they themselves propose to win the election by lying and misleading statements.
We have heard of all the recent troubles in the United Australia party. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) has been suspended, and the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) is still hesitating whether to leave the Advisory War Council or not. Honorable senators may depend upon it that he will follow the course most favorable to himself. The time of this chamber is wasted over and over again by members of the Opposition. They speak upon matters of which they have no knowledge whatever, and when I rise to refute their statements they walk out of the chamber. They have been doing that for six years. Yesterday, I drew attention to the fact that although we had started the day’s proceedings with a full complement of honorable senators, before 70 minutes had elapsed, only twelve honorable senators were left - strangely enough, I had not risen to speak up to that time. Such disregard for the business of this chamber shows the utter irresponsibility of honorable senators opposite. Senator Foll has said that Opposition representatives should be withdrawn from the Advisory War Council because that body no longer can fulfil a useful purpose. Why not? The war is still on, and only this morning a Japanese admiral is reported to have said that very soon the Japanese navy would blow the Allied fleets out of the water, and after that it would be an easy matter to take Australia. There might be something in that statement. After all, we have yet to demonstrate our ability to blow the Japanese fleet out of the water.
We have much important business to transact, and I shall not waste the time of the Senate by prolonging discussion on this matter. This motion is a waste of time. I trust that honorable senators will take notice of the statement which I read to them as it is a most remarkable and truthful statement on the political situation just prior to the last elections.
– The remarks made by the Minister for the Interior (‘Senator Collings) in reply to Senator Foll were quite uncalled for and unjustifiable. The Minister attributed to Senator Foll statements of a harmful character, and made an attack upon him which I consider to be most unfair. In moving this motion, I am sure that Senator Foll has been prompted by the highest motives. In the course of his speech he set out clearly, and in moderate language, the reasons for the action which he was taking. It is ‘true that the honorable senator referred to the Advisory “War Council and commented upon what he regarded to be its usefulness or otherwise; but he did not make the remarks that were attributed to him by the Minister. Senator Foll said that, as members of the Advisory War Council were bound by an oath of secrecy, they were not at liberty to discuss matters about which they would have known something in any case, and which they would have been free to discuss had they not been members of the Council. Is there anything improper in that? Is it not a true statement of the position? I offer no comment as to whether the Advisory War Council is good or bad, but I emphasize that in bringing this matter forward, Senator Foll has been actuated by honorable intentions, one of the most important of which relates to a report which appeared in this morning’s press, setting out for the first time in the history of the Advisory War Council, the matters considered. Upon reading that report, one is prone to wonder why the Advisory War Council has been occupying its time discussing matters which relatively are of no moment, and which, as Senator Foll has said, could quite properly have been discussed in this chamber and the House of Representatives. Why should information of this kind be farmed out to honorable senators through the medium of the press? Are we, as the elected representatives of the people, to be completely ignored? One can understand quite readily that the strictest secrecy must be observed in regard to discussions of matters of high strategy, and that such discussions, quite properly, should be confined to the Advisory War Council; but the matters which, according to this morning’s press, .were discussed by the Advisory War Council at its last meeting do not seem to be in ‘that category, as information in regard to them has been released piecemeal through the medium of the press. When we, as members of the Parliament, are asked by the people of this country for further information in regard to certain matters, we have to admit that we know nothing about it. How long is it since a secret meeting of members of this Parliament was held? Surely it is not too much to ask that the Prime Minister should call honorable senators and honorable members together as frequently as possible to make available to them information upon matters of passing interest. We could be bound by the same oath of secrecy which binds members of the Advisory War Council. Is there any reason to believe that private members of Parliament would betray that trust? I am sure that Senator Foll had no desire to pry into matters of high strategy. That was not his object in moving this motion; but there are other matters which are of great moment to the people of this country, and about which a member of Parliament should have the fullest information, consistent with national security. There appears to be developing in this country a tendency to withhold from the people certain information which, if made known generally, would help Australian citizens to appreciate the war effort which is being made by this country. Full information on certain matters which have a direct bearing on the war effort, but do not relate to high strategy, would enable the people to form a clear conception of our war responsibilities, and would remove many of the doubts which exist in the public mind to-day.
– It would stop all the guesswork that is going on.
– There is guesswork going on; people are obtaining fragments of information which, in the absence of other facts, may be quite harmful. The Minister for the Interior told us what should be done to uphold democracy; but surely it cannot be suggested that secrecy is a basic principle of democracy? Rather should there he absolute freedom of speech, so long as that freedom does not interfere with security. Are we, the members of this Parliament, just because we do not happen to be amongst the chosen few who are Cabinet Ministers or members of the Advisory War Council, not entitled to know many of the things which quite properly we should know, and which in normal times we would know in the ordinary course of events?
– We on this side of the chamber do not know these things either.
– The honorable senator knows quite well that in regard to many matters which have no direct relation to war strategy, information is being withheld from us. En spite of what the Minister for the Interior has said, I maintain that Senator Poll’s motives in moving this motion are quite worthy, that what he has said this morning is in the interests of the country, and that it will in no way prejudice democracy or the people of Australia.
– I approach this question with mixed feelings. I agree with much that Senator Herbert Hays has said ; but how he can aline his arguments with the operations of the Advisory War Council I am unable to understand. The subject under discussion is one upon which honorable senators cannot turn their backs. I disagree also with the Minister for the Interior (Senator Collings) when he suggests that Senator Foil’s motives were sincere. [ have a strong feeling that this is purely a political move in a longrange policy which the honorable senator has been pursuing for some time. There is no doubt that the honorable senator has had something in his mind for many months in regard to the Advisory War Council. He has criticized that body publicly on all possible occasions, and has never lost an opportunity to attack it through the press. He is taking this action to-day, not because he believes that the Advisory War Council is not a useful body,but purely with the object of exalting himself in his own political sphere. During my term of office in this chamber, Senator Foll has shown evidence of political ambitions which, no doubt, we all nurture; but his ambitions have been stultified. He failed to secure election as Leader of the Senate in the previous Government, and then when there was a change of government he was unable to secure even the junior position of Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– The honorable senator should confine his remarks to the subject matter of the motion.
– Since that time, we have noticed a definite line of criticism from Senator Foll, which has culminated in his attacks on the Advisory War Council. I have no doubt as to his disappointment last week, when the Council, which he thought would be abolished, was revived by the attitude of certain members of the Country party.
– The honorable senator is dirtier than I thought he was.
– This matter has brought Senator Foll into the open to fire one other shot in his campaign designed to eliminate the Council from the national life of this country, although I consider that that would be a tragedy. Throughout the world to-day, in the countries of all of our Allies, the people of all parties have combined, because it is considered that the present struggle vitally concerns every member of the community. This is not a party political war, but a war of the people against the Fascists.
– Except in Australia.
– Honorable senators opposite are now trying to make the fight a party one. The Government is availing itself of the most intellectual men that the Opposition can supply. When the Council was formed by Mr. Menzies it was generally agreed that a good job had been done. There are many points of view, and men of quality and intellect are needed to express them. If any honorable senator suggests that members of the Opposition could not be of any service on the Council to-day, I reiterate my criticism that that argument is based purely on political grounds and redounds to the discredit of this country. In the United States of America, President Roosevelt has asked members of the Opposition to make their services available in certain capacities. Colonel Knox, who has been selected from the ranks of the Opposition to take charge of the Navy, considers that the present fight is not a party fight, but a national one. In Great Britain, where the people are only a few miles from the front line, the members of all sections and parties are “ doing their bit “. In New Zealand, a war council has been formed of all parties, and we have a similar body in Australia. I should be sorry to see the Council abolished, but, unfortunately, it has become a party plaything. I do not know what the United Australia party now calls itself, but what is in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and the United Australia party has not lost its original odour.
SenatorFoll. - Is the honorable senator still a member of the “ non-com “ party ?
– I know where I am, but if any member of the Opposition can tell me where Senator Poll is he is a better man than I. In the welter of politics, Senator Foll has evolved by means of the present motion, a method of making confusion worse confounded, and he has succeeded in that effort. I do not desire the Opposition to be a spent force. I believe that it has an important job to do for this country. “Without an effective Opposition the foundations of democracy will be seriously shaken. The duty of the Opposition is to compose its differences, because it has an important task to perform.
– I support the motion, and intend to comment on the attitude of honorable senators opposite who have spoken to it. We first had a curtain lecture by the Minister for the Interior (Senator Collings), who made some extraordinary observations. He accused the Opposition of wasting the time of the Senate by playing at party politics. That was an extraordinary indictment from that particular Minister. It is worthy of note that he had the temerity to say that the people of Australia did not realize the importance of this war until Japan entered it. I protest vigor ously against that statement. I know that the party in Opposition at the outbreak of war did its best to mislead the people. In its whole outlook it was completely isolationist. If there were people in Australia who had those wrong ideas at that time, I lay the blame entirely at the feet of the then Opposition. We have had a small contribution to the debate from a private member on the Government side who has recently had a trip abroad. I was of the opinion that that trip had materially improved Senator Armstrong’s outlook, but we heard him indulge in a diatribe against Senator Foll and imputing motives of the foulest kind, without dealing with the real merits of the motion. I realize that it would be difficult for Senator Armstrong, having recently had contact with members of the Conservative and Liberal parties in Great Britain, where a national government has been formed, to support the camouflaged system adopted in Australia, but I do not condone his imputations.
I shall offer a few brief observations regarding my experience as a member of the Advisory War Council. It was appointed by the Menzies Government at the specific request of the then Leader of the Opposition, who is the present Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin). It was appointed, not because we thought it had a real place in our parliamentary system, but because we hoped that by bringing the two sides in politics together it would provide a bridge that would enable a national government to be formed. That is the only kind of government that a British community should have in time of war. But, unfortunately, we early discovered that the proposal had not been made entirely for the purpose of allowing the Opposition to assist the Government of the day in the conduct of the war. The existence of the Council was taken advantage of by certain members of the Opposition on the Council to further their party political ends. At that time - and this is the only difference I had with my colleagues - full reports of matters that had been and were about to be discussed at meetings of the Council were published in the press by certain members of the Council who were then in opposition. The Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) had frequently stated in the Sydney press that he intended to discuss this and that matter with the Advisory War Council, and, after the Council had met, the statement appeared that he had disagreed entirely with the proposals of the Government of the day. A similar attitude was adopted by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), and that consequently reduced the usefulness of the Council to vanishing point. When the Government of the day was changed, the new Opposition had to consider whether it would be represented on the Council, but after full consideration it was decided to allow representatives ‘ of the Opposition to occupy seats on the Council for the purpose of giving assistance to members of the new Government in their onerous duties. I have no doubt that the representatives of the new Opposition made contributions that were helpful to the Government in the discussions on various matters brought to the notice of the Council. Had that position continued, the Opposition would have been in favour of retaining its representation on the Council, but it became evident, even before the last general elections, but particularly since the elections, that the Council was only a sham and a delusion. The fact that representatives of the Opposition were members of that body was used by the Prime Minister during the elections to cover up many of the misdeeds of the Government.
– Order ! The subject under discussion is not the abolition of the Advisory War Council. I request the honorable senator to confine his remarks within the ambit of the motion.
– Members of the United Australia party would have retained their membership of the Council had it served a useful purpose, but we found from time to time that matters of real importance were not referred to the Council. Personally, I completely agree with the action of the United Australia party in directing its representatives to resign from that body. I support the view of the Minister for the Interior that, as the Government of the day has refused to be associated with a national government, the Opposition should fully discharge its true function of criticizing the administration of the Government. We believe that there should be more frequent sittings of the Parliament so that the discussion of important matters which arise from time to time will not ‘be postponed, perhaps for months, by which time the possibility of taking remedial action may have passed. When the Menzies Government was in office, the then Opposition protested vigorously against long intervals between sittings, and when a change of government took place, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) gave an undertaking that the Parliament would sit regularly at monthly intervals. That undertaking has been forgotten.
– No such promise was given.
– I may be incorrect in saying that the sittings were to be held at monthly intervals, but it is certainly correct to say that regular sittings of the Parliament were promised. I believe that >the undertaking was that the sittings were to be held monthly.
– That is so.
– Now the Government refuses to meet the Parliament and, instead, it carries on the government of the country by issuing great numbers of regulations. If the parliamentary system is to retain the confidence of the people - which it must have if it is to continue - the Parliament must ‘be allowed to function, and the only way in which it can function is by meeting regularly so that members can. express their views on matters of importance which affect the public. I support the motion because I believe that we should have more frequent meetings of the Parliament, and also secret sittings as occasion demands. I hope also that in the future there will be less questioning of the motives of Opposition senators and a more general discussion of the merits of motions which it may submit.
, - I am not astonished at the action of Senator Foll in bringing forward a matter relating to the Advisory War Council because for a long time he has been a critic of that body. On numerous occasions statements in which the honorable senator has urged the disbanding of the Advisory War Council have appeared in the press. To one portion of his speech, and that of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) I subscribe, namely, the necessity for the Senate to assert itself as a part of the legislative machinery of the Commonwealth. The Advisory War Council was formed in 1940, when a non-Labour government was in office, and since then, despite changes of the administration, Government and Opposition members on that body have conferred regularly and, in my opinion, they have done a reasonably good job. If previous governments believed that the Council did not justify its existence, they could have abolished it. During this debate it has been suggested that United Australia party members of the Council never disclosed to other members of their party any of the matters which were discussed by the Council, but that Labour members of the Council did so. Except during a period of about one month when I was ill, I have attended meetings of the Labour party regularly, and at every such meeting members have been given a resume of the war position. I assume that that has been done also at meetings of other parties.
– It has neverbeen done at meetings of the United Australia party.
– We could not do it because of the oath of secrecy by which members of the Council are bound.
– Senator McBride said that he was aware of certain things which had been discussed by the Advisory War Council.
– Senator McBride was a member of the Council when it was formed.
– As I have said, I believe that the Council has done good work, and that had that not been the opinion of successive governments, it should have been discontinued long ago. I regret that an answer has not yet been given in this chamber to the question of the Leader of the Opposition regarding the holding: of a secret sitting, either of honorable senators only or of the members of both Houses, but I point out that in the House of Representatives the Prime Minister (Mr. Cur tin) stated that he was not prepared to have a secret sitting of members at this stage. During Senator Foil’s speech I interjected that the honorable senator had recently suggested the “ railroading “ of certain generals. I suggested that, as the Minister for Health (Senator Fraser) represents in this chamber the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), it would have been better had the honorable senator taken the matter up privately with the Minister instead of mentioning it in the Senate. It is futile to say that these things do not help theenemy, because they do get abroad, and they do a disservice to the cause of the United Nations.
– Does the Minister think that some of the remarks of the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) are helpful to the enemy?
– Whatthe Minister for Transport says is not my business. From time to time the operations of the Advisory War Council havebeen favorably commented on by the present Prime Minister and the present Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Menzies) who have been members of the Council since its inception, but I confess that the report which appears in this morning’s newspapers contains something new. Senator Foll, however, referred to only one or two matters dealt with by the Advisory War Council at its last meeting - he mentioned prisoners of war and malaria, but he did not mention other matters with which it dealt. For instance, he did not read the following paragraph: -
The Council heard comprehensive reports from the chiefs of staff on recent operations in the Pacific. The growing strength of Allied forces in the Pacific, and the recent highly successful attacks against the Marshall Islands, Truk, and the nearer group of islands to the north of Australia, were reviewed with special reference to their deep significance on the course of future operations in the Pacific. In regard to Australia’s part a preliminary examination was made of aspects of future policy affecting the organization and strength of Australian forces, and the rebalancing of the war effort and man-power problems.
I submit that those are man-sized problems, and to say that the High Command has been handicapped by the Government is monstrous.! Every exMinister knows that the man-power situation is dominated by the High Command, which lays down the strategy to be followed and fixes lines of offence and defence. The High Command tells the Government that, in order to carry out certain operations, so many men, guns and equipment generally will be required.
– Did the High Command approve of two armies?
– The High Command is operating two armies with tremendous success. I suggest that a revival of a discussion on that subject is similar to resurrecting talk about a national government. As the Minister for the Interior (Senator Collings) has said, every one of us has his responsibility to the nation in time of war, and therefore the Government will continue to bring forward legislation with some of which honorable senators opposite probably will not agree. Nothing is of greater importance than the proper organization of our naval, military and air forces, and man-power generally. That is a man-sized job.
Reference has been made to the need for greater publicity being given to certain aspects of’ the war, in order to counteract the growing belief that the war is practically over. I do not believe that the war is practically over, and that is why I do not intend to lift certain restrictions which have been imposed, as, for instance, restriction on the production of beer. These restrictions are necessary and, indeed, further rationing may have to be imposed. Should that necessity arise, the Government will not apologize for imposing further restrictions. There may be something in the contention of honorable senators opposite that certain aspects of the war are not sufficiently emphasized. I believe that the Prime Minister did the right thing when he told the people, before the elections, that the risk of an invasion of Australia had . practically disappeared, but at no time has he minimized the seriousness of the war situation. I contend that the morale of the people of Great Britain must be maintained; it can be maintained only if they have sufficient food. At the moment, they have not sufficient food. We are doing our best to meet the deficiency, but shortage of shipping .and other causes make our task difficult.
– Can the Minister say how many ships are unable to sail because of lack of coal?
– So far as I know, no ships are being held up for that reason. It is true that some ships were held up at Bowen, but they are now under way. I believe that the arrangements which are being made by the Minister acting for the Minister for Shipping will ease the position. I do not challenge the right of any honorable senator to bring forward any subject for discussion in this chamber, but I do suggest that motions relating to the war are not helpful. That remark does not apply to the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition, to which I have already referred, and I assure him that it will have my early attention.
– It appears that the constitution and existence of the Advisory War Council has assumed a significance during this debate far beyond that called for by the motion submitted by Senator Foll, and therefore I shall dismiss that subject with a few observations. If the Council has served any useful purpose at all, it has been as a shelter or umbrella to protect the Government from criticism for not informing the representatives of the people of certain matters relating to the war before the general public is advised of them through the press. It is little less than an affront to this Parliament for its members to receive important information regarding Australian prisoners of war from oversea sources before the Parliament is informed. Recently, I met a woman who has relatives in the hands of the Japanese. She had read the reports of Japanese brutalities to prisoners, and it was pathetic to see the effect on her. Such reports only add to the anxiety of the relatives of men in the hands of the enemy. Surely the treatment of prisoners of war is a matter which could have been disclosed to this Parliament, even if it meant a special summoning of the Parliament, so that we might have done something to minimize the anxiety of the relatives of prisoners of war.
The report of the meeting of the Advisory War Council also states that reference was made to the incidence of malaria in the Australian Military Forces in New Guinea. That statement goes out to the public of Australia, yet the chosen representatives of the people were not permitted to know of this matter in advance. More can be said in favour of secret meetings than against them. I admit that at some secret meetings which have been held in the past the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) gave us very little more information than we were able to glean for ourselves by reading between the lines of press reports. After all, one does not quite look at things as they are made to appear in the press. However, I recall one secret meeting at which the Prime Minister dealt with the questions raised in the press this morning, and dealt with them in a rather masterly and diplomatic manner. I refer to the disposition of certain senior military officers; and., apparently, through the instrumentality of either the British military authorities or our own the Prime Minister ‘ has brought about a reconciliation of those differences. But to say that Parliament is not to be told of these matters is a denial of the democratic rights which it is the duty of Parliament to assert. The members of the Advisory War Council are under an oath of secrecy. But. what does that body discuss? If the matters which are dealt with in reports in this morning’s press are typical of those discussed by the Council, why should not Parliament be given that information in the first place? Much has been said in this debate about destructive criticism. I believe that Australia may be faced with greater dangers than our people generally apprehend; and I hesitate to suggest that they may be greater than any which may come from Japanese guns or aeroplanes. During the last war, as a junior officer in the Censor’s Branch, I had an opportunity to see the devastation caused among our people by an outbreak of bubonic plague. Recently, a news item was published under a Brisbane date-line referring to the discovery of plague in that city, but not one word has been issued officially on this matter. Of course, we do not wish to alarm the people, but dangers of this kind should at least evoke a word of warning. The danger of bubonic plague can easily be envisaged, particularly by those who recall the barriers which were set up in this country to prevent its spread not very many years .ago. The death-roll in the various capital cities ran into hundreds. It may be said, perhaps, that science is able to cope with disease; but prevention is better than cure. On matters of this kind, full information could be given to members at a secret meeting. There can hardly be one Australian who does not support our war effort. When matters of this kind are brought before US. we have no opportunity to move a substantive motion. In any case, such a course would probably do more harm than good by causing alarm. Therefore, we should be given the opportunity in secret meeting to receive the fullest information which Ministers are able to give to us. I realize more than any other honorable senator that a Minister who represents, say, the Minister for the Army in this chamber has not sufficient information at his fingertips to be able to answer all questions which come within the purview of the Minister for the Army. Therefore, secret meetings can serve a good purpose. At such gatherings members without being required to take any elaborate oath of secrecy, which, I suggest, is so much “hooey” so far as the Advisory War Council is concerned, could be trusted with full information. Members of Parliament have the best interest of the nation at heart. Surely, they can be trusted with information of the kind which is handed out to the press of this country. We have a prior right to that information. Our first information concerning vital developments should not come to us through whispers. We should be given all available information at once. I have never felt more sorry for others than I was for those people who have relatives prisoners of war, when Sir Anthony Eden’s statement regarding the treatment of prisoners of war in Japanese hands was published in the press of this country, nor have I ever been more humiliated as a member of Parliament than I was on that occasion. The real issue now before us is not the moribund Advisory War Council, whose functions no one seems to know. I take it that War Cabinet decides our war policy. I hope and believe that it does. What the functions of the Advisory War Council are I do not know; but we do know that there is growing dissatisfaction over the inability of members of Parliament to give information concerning prisoners of war under the heel of the Japanese when, at the same time, the relatives of those men read in the press an authoritative statement that they are not being fairly treated. The Prime Minister has a comfortable majority in Parliament, and with the confidence which the people show in him, surely, he can brush aside the less important matters, and deal with us in a straightforward manner. He should invite us to raise any matter which is troubling our minds, and ask, should he so desire, that we do so under the seal of secrecy at a secret meeting to be held in either this chamber or the House of Representatives. For instance, some of the matters which I have mentioned could possibly be more appropriately mentioned at a secret meeting, at which I should have an opportunity to elicit full information from the appropriate Minister. The motion issued by Senator Foll is excellent. It is time that the Government woke up to a full sense of its responsibility to keep fully informed the representatives of the people, be they few or many in any particular party, instead of giving information of this kind to us in a vicarious way.
– I fail to see that this debate can serve any useful purpose. I agree with Senator A. J. McLachlan that he would have acted more wisely had he not touched upon some of the matters he mentioned. I do not doubt Senator Foil’s sincerity in moving this motion. I realize that the honorable senator holds very strong views regarding the usefulness of the Advisory War Council. It is hardly necessary for me to remind him that that body was created by a Government which he supported. I am aware that its formation was suggested by the then Leader of the Opposition, who is now the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin). At the same time. I remind him that the present Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives has not voiced any serious criticism against the Advisory War Council. For this reason I have a shrewd suspicion that his resignation from that body was dictated by the Opposition caucus. It is also significant that the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who is noted for the alacrity with which he makes up his mind, has, apparently, not yet come to a final decision as to whether he should withdraw from the Council. Further, the right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden), and his colleagues in the Australian Country party, have decided to retain their membership of that Council. I believe that the Council gives an opportunity to all sections in the Parliament to become conversant with matters about which they may not otherwise be able to inform themselves. Therefore, if honorable senators opposite do not obtain all the information they require regarding the progress of the war, I feel sorry for them, and, bearing that fact in mind, I can understand their attitude in this matter.
– Apparently honorable senators opposite are given that information.
– Yes, the Prime Minister with great discretion gives information of that kind to members of the Government party, and it proves of great value to us. The information which I have received in that way has proved far more valuable to me personally than any I have gained by attending a secret meeting of senators and members. However, it is significant that the Opposition has not made any request to the Prime Minister to arrange such a meeting. Surely, the Prime Minister would take some notice of a request of that kind from the Leader of the Opposition, but the Opposition has not made any request of that nature officially. Probably I should not have risen to speak at this juncture but for a remark made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay), who has had experience as a senior Minister, and, therefore, should act with a greater sense of his responsibility as a member of this chamber. During the course of this debate he said that the Government was interfering with the High Command, and, as the result of such interference, great injustice and hardship was being suffered by a large section of our forces. That statement will have a most damaging effect among our people. The implication being that the Government is interfering with the High Command in its conduct of operations.
– That is true.
– I should expect to hear that interjection from a colleague of the Leader of the Opposition; but it is not true. Statements of that kind do not do any good. The Prime Minister has repeatedly referred to the friendly relations which exist between the Government and the High Command, and his- assurance is accepted by the people. However, in the existing circumstances, statements of the kind made by the Leader of the Opposition tend to sow suspicion in . the minds of the people. I believe that we have a long way to go before we finish this war. As the danger recedes from these shores the difficulty of the Government in obtaining the maximum effort from the people will increase. I admit that with some regret. The Leader of the Opposition cannot be said to make statements lightly. I should like, bowever, to believe that his statement on that subject was made without proper consideration. I say in all sincerity that there is great need for all sections of the people to endeavour to bring about a maximum war effort, so that we may make sure that all the sacrifices which have been made shall not have been made in vain. It is necessary for the Parliament and people of Australia to do their utmost to bring about a successful ending of the war. God knows that there is sufficient happening outside these walls to cause the Government concern in regard to our war effort. It is not for mc to mention some of those things, but it seems to be of great importance to all of us to realize their effect. That any Ministers, ex-Ministers or members of this chamber should give utterance to suggestions which will in any way weaken the efforts of the Government, or the nation’s total war effort, is very much to be deplored. It is a great pity that such remarks should be made.
.- This debate will have served a useful purpose if it only emphasizes the fact that members of the Government party in this chamber are quite clearly provided with information as to the conduct of the war which is not available to members of the Opposition. Senator Courtice clearly indicated what I had understood to be a fact, that it is a common practice for the Prime Minister to make statements on the war situation to members of his party in the party room.
– Did not the honorable senator say a “guarded “ statement?
– He did, and I am not criticizing the Prime Minister for making such statements. What I wish to emphasize is the great difference between the positions of the ministerial and opposition parties in this regard. The Prime Minister attends a meeting of the Labour party and makes, as I understand it, a discreet, but at the same time informative, statement as to the progress of the war. He does not obtain the whole of his information on that subject as a member of the Advisory War Council. He obtains it from all kinds of sources, and, as Leader of the Government, is in a position to exercise a wide discretion as to what he will disclose.
– The confidence has never been abused.
– I do not suggest that it has been.
– The Leader of the Opposition could do the same thing.
– I shall be pleased if the Minister for the Interior (Senator Collings) will display a little discretion himself on a matter of some importance. The Minister is very fond of delivering schoolmasterish lectures to this chamber, but for once I should like him to listen to a little common sense. The only way in which the members of the Opposition can be supplied with a similar statement, unless there is a secret meeting of Parliament, is to obtain it from the members of the Opposition who happen to be members of the Advisory War Council. But they are forbidden by their oath of secrecy to disclose to the members of their own party what has taken place in the Advisory War Council. There is no escape from that situation, unless the government of the day provides the means whereby the members of this Parliament can get the information in secret. I believe that.it is the job of the Prime Minister to make’ the discreet statements which he makes.
– Ask him to address the Opposition now and again.
– If he is not prepared to call a secret meeting of Parliament, it would be an excellent idea if he could see his way to come even to the Opposition room for the purpose of making to the members of the Opposition a statement similar to that which lie makes to the members of the Labour party.
It is, to my mind, of great importance, if this Parliament is to work as an effective machine, that members of the Opposition party should be in possession of as much information as is a private member of the Labour party.
– We did not complain when we were in opposition.
– Secret meetings were held during that period. I do not know whether Labour members of the Advisory War Council made discreet statements to the Labour party meetings nt the time.
– I hope that they did not, but I do not know. Every member of the Opposition will hear out my statement that never has anything been disclosed at an Opposition party meeting about what t&ok place at the meetings of the Advisory War Council. I quite seriously suggest to the Leader of the Senate that he should take up this matter with the Prime Minister. It is desirable that the Opposition be put into a position by means of the information given to it, to discharge its functions effectively in both chambers. I refer to information not only with regard to domestic matters but also in relation to the carrying out of war policy. The debate will have served a very good purpose if it throws into relief, as I want it to do, the great difference in this regard between the ministerial and opposition parties. I urge the Leader of the Senate, having regard to those facts, to direct the attention of the Prime Minister to what is happening, and ascertain whether it is not possible to devise some means whereby the members of the Opposition will be as fully informed on the progress of the war as are the members of the ministerial party.
– I have not heard anything helpful during this debate, although nearly three hours of the time of the Senate have been occupied. I agree with an honorable senator on this side who said that Senator Foll, who moved the motion, has been carrying on a political propaganda campaign on this subject for some time. Long before this period of the session began I read in the Sydney press a statement by Senator Foll that he proposed to move for the abolition of the Advisory War Council. The Council was not appointed by this Government, but was formed in 1940 by the previous Government, at the request of the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). One honorable senator said this morning that the Council was formed to act as a sort of umbrella to shelter both the Government and the Opposition, who wouk share responsibility between them. It was stated at the time by Senator Foll that he was wholly behind the appointment of the Council, because it would ‘be a bridgehead for a national government. The result of the recent elections should convince members of the Opposition that a national government is not wanted. The election was fought on that and other issues and in view of the result the Opposition should drop the idea entirely.
Reference has been made here - it has been stressed by Senator Spicer - to the fact that the Prime Minister has made guarded statements to the Labour party about what has been said at meetings of the Advisory War Council. I have attended every meeting of the Parliamentary Labour party at which the Prime Minister has been present, and J can say that all that he has done has been to express his opinion, or give some indication of what was happening, without divulging any secret, or doing anything else that would jeopardize the security of the nation. It is wrong for members of the Opposition to bandy the Prime Minister’s name around amid accusations of divulging secrets to the detriment of national safety.
– Who said that he did?
– The honorable senator, Senator Poll, and the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay). It was a diabolical statement to make and entirely incorrect.
SenatorFoll. - I rise to order. I take the strongest possible exception to the Minister’s statement that I said that the Prime Minister had divulged to the Labour party information which he should not have divulged. I ask that the statement be withdrawn, because it is personally most offensive to me.
– The honorable senator said that the Prime Minister had disclosed the information not only to the Labour party caucus, but also to union secretaries.
– I made no mention of union secretaries.
– I am sorry. I withdraw the statement objected to.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Any statements that the Prime Minister ‘may have made have not been breaches of the oath of secrecy, but merely his own interpretation of events. If the Opposition representatives on the Advisory War Council were not so tired or so lazy, probably they too could call meetings of the parties of which they are members and make similar statements. There is nothing to prevent them from expressing their opinions upon the progress of the war. Much has been said to-day in regard to the holding of a secret meeting of Parliament. Actually, there is no such thing as a secret meeting because eventually the information given is disclosed to others. I attended secret meetings of this Parliament while the present Opposition was in power, and the only information given at those meetings was something which already had appeared in the press, probably some weeks before.
During the suspension of the sitting for luncheon I conferred with others on this side about the statements which Senator Foll made this morning, and found that like myself other honorable senators who were in the chamber this morning, have a distinct recollection of hearing Senator Foll saying that the Prime Minister imparted certain information to State Premiers and to union officials.
SenatorFoll. - I did not mention them at all.
– I said that.
– Another totally incorrect statement made by Senator Foll was that the Prime Minister had stated that the war was as good as over. I am sure that any honorable senator with a sense of responsibility would not make such an allegation. I challenge honorable senators opposite or any one else, to prove to me that the Prime Minister made a statement to that effect. It is true that some time ago the right honorable gentleman did say that the possibility of this country being invaded was not nearly so great as it had been. This morning the Leader of the Opposition referred to the return of the Australian Imperial Force.
– I did not.
– The honorable senator said that certain members of the Australian Imperial Force who had returned from overseas had been given only a fortnight’s leave before being sent to New Guinea.
– That is true.
– Since the Australian Imperial Force returned from overseas, it has been suggested by Opposition senators that if they had had their way, those troops would not have been brought back. Honorable senators opposite should remember that they are not the only ones who have received letters from mothers and relatives of
Australian Imperial Force men complaining that upon the return of soldiers from overseas, they had been given only a short period of leave before being sent to New Guinea. At that time Australia’s safety was in peril.
– 1 was referring to something which happened eight or nine weeks ago.
– My recollection is that the honorable senator referred to the return of the Australian Imperial Force from overseas.
– I rise to order. The Postmaster-General (Senator Ashley) is attributing to me something that I did not say.
– Order ! The Leader of the Opposition has not raised a point of order. He may, if he so desires, obtain leave of the Senate at a later stage to make a personal explanation.
– When our Australian Imperial Force troops were brought back from overseas the outlook for Australia was not at all bright, and it is true that after having enjoyed perhaps only a fortnight’s leave, some of these men were sent north to New Guinea or to other territories, where they subsequently played a great part in the defence to Australia. Nobody will forget their deeds in the Owen Stanley Range, at Buna, Gona and other places. Had it not been for these seasoned Australian Imperial Force troops, Australia probably would not have been in so safe a position to-day.
The Leader of the Opposition also criticized the Australian Military Command and the impression that I gathered from his imputations was that he was referring to General Sir Thomas Blarney. General Sir Thomas Blarney was appointed by a previous government to command the Australian Imperial Force in the Middle East and subsequently he became ‘ Deputy Commander-in-Chief of all the British forces there. Apparently his ability as a soldier was regarded very highly in Great Britain as well as in Australia, and it ill becomes any honorable senator, on this or the other side of the chamber, to criticize our High Command. Senator Foll said this morning that the Labour Government had made a good war effort until the last elections.
– I said that the Government had given all its attention to the war effort up to that time.
– Order ! The Minister’s time has expired.
.- The debate on this motion has been rather peculiar. Speeches have been made by two Ministers who have dealt fully with matters which in themselves were selfexplanatory. In my view the Leader of the Senate (Senator Keane) is to blame for the valuable time which has been taken up in discussing this matter, because of his failure to permit a debate upon the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) on international affairs. That item of business has been placed at the bottom of the notice-paper, and honorable senators have not had an opportunity to discuss war events which have taken place since Parliament adjourned in October of last year. In addition, the “gag” was applied to the discussion. of a certain measure.
I congratulate the Minister for the Interior (.Senator Collings) upon his approach to this subject, but I do not think so much of his retreat. He started his speech on a very high plane, and exhorted Senator Foll and other honorable senators to keep the discussion upon a high level; but as he proceeded, his old self triumphed, and he became a little angry’. In fact, he became quite worked up, and made certain assertions, insinuations and charges, all of which were absolutely unfair and untrue. That, however, is characteristic of the Minister. It seems to me that if he contented himself with commencing his dissertations, and did not bother about finishing them, his reputation would be enhanced.
The Postmaster-General (Senator Ashley) took upon himself the task of defending the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), and I know of no one in whose hands the right honorable gentleman’s reputation would be safer. The Postmaster-General is a sensitive man. He reminds me of the elephant who complained that the Lord had made his skin too thin. Although at the outset of this debate it was strongly denied that the Prime Minister had made statements upon certain secret matters at party meetings and elsewhere, gradually it has been revealed that statements were, in fact, made. It is now said that the disclosures were of a harmless character, but nevertheless they were disclosures based upon his inner knowledge of what was occurring. That, is all that honorable senators on this side of the chamber want - an occasional statement by the Prime Minister or by the Leader of the Senate, upon matters in which we are all vitally interested. Without demanding precise information, we could be given expressions of opinion based upon, that information. Surely we are entitled to expect that as members of Parliament we shall be kept in touch with what is happening. We do not want to be told things which, if made public, would endanger mir national security, nor do we ask for information in regard to government policy. After all, the setting up of the. Advisory War Council was a signal to the people of Australia that whatever differences of opinion we had in politics, we were as one in making every effort to safeguard our existence as a nation and preserve nur freedom.
– In spite of that, honorable senators opposite want the right to dispose generals in whatever manner they think fit.
– I have not said a word about generals.
– But Senator Foll did, and the honorable senator is supporting him.
– Like Senator Foll and many others, I see something significant in the fact that soldiers who actually have proved themselves on the battlefield have been taken suddenly from the battlefield and disposed elsewhere. Good reasons could probably be advanced for that, but that is one of the matters on which members of this Parliament might well have been informed, so that they and the people could be sure that the officers who had been relieved of their positions had not suffered an injustice, and that the men who replaced them were of equal calibre. We had full information regarding the outstanding successes of those officers overseas, but as soon as they came back to Australia we received practically no news regarding them, for they suddenly disappeared from the screen. The Government would. do well to be a little more frank in such matters. The debate has served a good purpose, because it has at least resulted in the disclosure that the Prime Minister occasionally takes his party into his confidence.
– Ho does it in Parliament, too.
– The Minister i3 good in attack, but weak in defence. We have heard that the man-power problem has been woefully mismanaged and I regard that charge as proved. Reference has been made to the fact that men who have served in the Middle East, and have also fought against the Japanese, have been sent bade to New Guinea after a fortnight’s leave, but at the same time seemingly fantastic figures have been given to us regarding the total number of men in the Australian Army. That number, as compared with the number actually fighting in New Guinea, has assumed proportions beyond the understanding of the layman. There may be a perfectly good explanation of that, but why is it not given? The disclosure of that information would not be of value to the enemy. A request has been made for 20,000 men from the Army for the food front. After about five or six months of searching amongst the large body of men in the Army, considerably over 500,000. the total “bag” that oan be obtained for the food front is about 8,000.
– They were to be released in twelve months.
– But the food front is proclaimed by the Prime Minister and other Ministers as the front on which we have to fight our biggest battle. We also hear the cry that man-power is essential, as it must be in the primaryproducing industries; but after six months we can release only 8,000 men out of over 500,000, three-fourths of whom are not fighting at all. Any business man, to whom a proposition like that was made, would say to the commanding officers, “We need 1,000 or 1,500 men for certain work, and we leave it to you to pick out that number”. Those men would have been available in -one month, if the matter had been dealt with in a businesslike way. The combined efforts of the members of the Government have resulted in only S,000 men being released for the food front in six months, despite the cry to high heaven that, man-power is necessary on that front.
– The honorable senator wants it both -ways.
– That, may be so, but, according to the information we have, there are fewer than two divisions of Australians on the fighting front. That leaves a very large percentage of the men in uniform eating their hearts out because they have nothing to do, whilst the food front is neglected. The release of a few thousands of men for several months to do necessary work on the food front should not be beyond the capacity of the Government. The debate has shown that the Opposition is not satisfied with the information supplied to it.
– It has not been satisfied since the last general elections. Senator LECKIE. - It is also easy to perceive that honorable senators opposite are not very comfortable. They make curious admissions now and again. They realize that members of the Opposition have some justification for their arguments.
– Order ! The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
– The Advisory War Council was formed with the concurrence of both the Government and the Opposition parties, but, now that the opponents of the Government are a party of bits and pieces, they advance the plea that the Council should he abolished. When the Council was established, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Menzies) was Prime Minister. He said that the work of the Council was a valuable contribution to the war effort. The present Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has stated that the Council is useful to the Government in its wartime activities. When the Council was formed, the position of Australia, as Senator Foll remarked, was critical, but now he claims that the services of the Council are no longer required. He also complains that, owing to the seriousness of the present position, a secret meeting of the Parliament should be held, so that the members may be informed as to how serious the position really is. I have attended a few secret meetings of Parliament, but apart from a few statistics, the information supplied at those meetings was merely a rehash of what we had already read in the press. Senator MoBride said that all that the Labour party did when in Opposition” was to mislead the public. I contend that all that the Opposition did when in office was to try to mislead the members of this Parliament. Members in the Menzies’ Administration openly declared that Australia was prepared to meet the enemy. When Japan came into the war the then Prime Minister said, “ If you want us, come and take us. We are ready for you”. But we were subsequently told that at that time one division could have taken Australia, because the country was quite unprepared for war.
– The then Minister for the Army said that.
– Yes. The Minister at that time was the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender). The Opposition, when in power, and when it knew that Japan was coming into the war, was making preparations to defend only the southern portion of Australia.
– Are we to hear about “ the Brisbane line “ again ?
– Yes, it is no myth. Why are statements being made similar to those of Senator Leckie, who has laid charges about man-power bungling on the food front, but is unable to cite a specific case to support his contention? Senator Foll desires to abolish the Advisory War Council, which has admittedly rendered good service, and he desires a secret meeting of the Parliament. When the Opposition was in power, and a secret meeting of members took place, it withheld certain information. It told us nothing about the democratic front being organized in Sydney, which Senator Foll himself supported. That information was not for the Parliament, but only for a privileged few who were members of the Cabinet at that time. Had honorable senators really been serious they have had many opportunities to set an example, but they have merely talked a lot of trash or made untrue statements. When the present Government came into office it found Australia practically defenceless, but now that the position has improved, the Opposition wants men to be pulled out of the Army wholesale in order to engage in the production of food. Questions arc asked on all sorts of matters as, for instance, how many men are with the Army in New Guinea ? Is it desirable that that information be made public? Senator Foll knows that sickness among men in tropical areas reaches considerable proportions, and that it is not advisable to leave men in such areas for long terms without bringing them back to Australia from time to time. He knows, too, that men are still necessary for garrison work in various parts of Australia, because he must he aware that the enemy may still attack this country. He must know that it is all “ hooey “ to say that men can be pulled out of the Army almost at a minute’s notice. Senator Leckie wanted 20,000 men to be taken from the Army almost immediately, but even if that were practicable, it would not be advisable. Men are being withdrawn from the Army gradually, in order to meet urgent requirements in other directions. I cannot understand why Senator Foll and his colleagues opposite - members of a party of bits and pieces - were so whole-heartedly in favour of the Advisory War Council when it was formed, and now want to abolish it. Nor can I understand why they want a. secret sitting of the Parliament now that the war position is much better than it has ever been. The fact is that the main object of the Menzies Government in establishing the Advisory War Council was to induce the Labour party to agree to the formation of a national government. Fortunately, the Labour party could see that its opponents would bring the country to a state of chaos, and it refused to join in the formation of a national government. If all the members of the party of bits and pieces opposite could be appointed to the Advisory War Council, we should not hear , any more criticism of that body from them.
– I do not take the least exception to the action of Senator Foll in submitting his motion to-day, because I recognize his right to do so. It may be that the discussion will serve a useful purpose, although it could be said that a discussion of some other matters of greater importance would serve a more useful purpose. Nevertheless, it is the prerogative of any member of the Senate to express his views on matters affecting the nation, and Senator Foll has done that. The honorable senator has no confidence in the Advisory War Council, and he is justified in adopting that attitude. He has no confidence in the present Government, and, again, he is justified in adopting that attitude. But because he adopts that attitude, it does not necessarily follow that he is right. He and his colleagues complain that not sufficient information is given to them about all sorts of matters. It is the right of honorable senators to ask questions in regard to matters of public importance, and to the degree that they do not exercise that right the responsibility lies with them, not with the Government. During the regime of a previous governmentI endeavoured to elicit certain information regarding such a non-contentious matter as the depreciation of the currency, but my proper and courteously worded questions were answered by the then Leader of the Senate (Senator McLeay) in a manner which can only be described as insulting. Some of the questions were not answered at all. Since I have been a Minister I have endeavoured to set a good example in this connexion. When a question is addressed to me, I answer it forthwith if I can - that is my duty - but if inquiries are necessary before a satisfactory answer canbe given, I set inquiries in motion with a view to obtaining the desired information. I repeat that honorable senators opposite have the right to ask questions, and that failure to do so is their responsibility. If I were asked to express an opinion as to the attitude adopted by the Opposition, I should answer that its members have a tendency to magnify minor issues and to make them appear to be matters of major importance. In saying that, I have no desire to arouse the ire of honorable senators opposite. In my opinion that habit does not help us much, whereas, if matters which honorable senators opposite regard as having more than ordinary significance were debated calmly, the result would be beneficial to all. Unfortunately, many honorable -senators opposite live in the past, and cannot dissociate themselves from happenings which occurred so long ago that they do not matter much now. Senator foll appears to be suffering from a sense of frustration, as the result of the nonformation of a national government. I am glad that a national government was not formed. Had the attempt to form such a government succeeded, I believe that the result would not have been as satisfactory as is the present set-up. In saying that, I am not concerned whether the government of the day consists of members of the Labour party or of the United Australia party. My point is that, with a national government, there could* not be that constructive criticism which is necessary in order to arrive at the truth. Instead, there would he a tendency, particularly on the part of Ministers, to suppress criticism. If we expect to make progress, we must encourage constructive criticism. If honorable senators opposite are not capable of constructive criticism, so much the worse for us ; but should they show any tendency to excel in that direction, they should be encouraged, because we should he all the better for it. Reference has been made to the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward). 1 do not accept any responsibility for what, he says, and I do not expect him to accept responsibility for what I say. The references to that Minister illustrate my contention that there is a tendency on the .part of honorable senators opposite to magnify minor issues. The Minister for Transport sometimes expresses himself in a way with which honorable senators opposite disagree. They disagree with his words, as well as with his views, as they have a perfect’ right to do: ‘but I suggest that they arc under an obligation to submit better words and better arguments than those of the person to whose utterances they object, so that the people may be able to judge between them. Instead of doing that, however, the Opposition in dulges in an organized vendetta against the Minister for Transport. When I see public men indulging in bitter recriminations instead of meeting argument with argument and fact with fact, I see men who are not capable of rising above their personal prejudices. And so it often happens that, instead of a debate being conducted on a high plane, with constructive suggestions by those who participate in it, efforts are made to discredit the government of the day because its critics are opposed to the views expressed by one of its members or supporters.
– Order ! I ask the Minister to confine his remarks to the motion.
– Senator Hays would have us believe that he is a mere neophyte, who is innocent of what is taking place in the world, and seeks information on a variety of subjects. Rightly or wrongly, I am of the opinion that the honorable senator adopts that attitude in the hope that his remarks will induce innocent persons like myself to make damaging admissions. I hope that the honorable senator does not often succeed in his attempts, but in my unguarded moments I may be tempted to think that he really means what he says and I may make admissions which the honorable senator would use against me later. To the honorable senator I say that it is unwise to accept at its face value what anybody says. Let us suppose that six capable observers, such as trained newspaper men, are selected for a test of their capacity to observe facts. For the purpose of the test, a motor accident, or a fight, or some other incident, is staged, and the six observers are asked to record their impressions in writing and submit them to the judges. It would probably be found that their accounts of what happened would vary considerably. Senator Herbert Hays may keep that illustration in mind when next he attempts to convince the Senate that he is as innocent as he looks. But I suggest that he should endeavour to form his own judgment on such matters. When we on this side were in opposition we received official statements about many matters, but could see at a glance that such statements were merely written by some junior clerk and blessed by the Minister. As Senator Aylett remarked, they were rehashes of press statements picked up here, there and everywhere. I was never impressed by them, and said so at the time. In order to keep myself informed, I adopted my own methods of gaining information by reading as closely, and as critically, as I couldHansard reports of what various members said. I was thus able to ascertain for my own purposes a good deal of information which was supposed to be secret. I hardly took any notice of information which was given to me in strict confidence. Much has been said in this debate with respect to a secret meeting of senators and members. I attended several secret meetings called by the Menzies Government. At those meetings I listened very attentively to every member who spoke, but I did not learn anything new. On one occasion I asked the then Prime Minister, the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), who is now the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, what wasbeing done in Great Britain to eliminate non-essential services and build up essential services. I thought that my question could quite properly be answered without in any way entailing unnecessary admissions; but I received merely a stereotyped answer which did not convey any information at all.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 64.
SenatorUPPILL asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: -
Inquiries are being made and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
Citizen Military Forces - Use of Queensland Schools
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the action of New Zealand in disregarding any limitations in the disposition of her military forces, and in view of the recently completed agreement with that Dominion, is it the intention of the Government to remove the boundaries covering the sphere of operations of the Australian Militia.
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answer : -
It isnot the practice to make statements on matters of policy in reply to questions.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Army has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Leader of the Senate, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Supply and Shipping, upon notice -
– The Minister acting for the Minister for Supply and Shipping has supplied the following answer : -
Difficulty is being experienced in obtaining this information owing to the fact that figures in relation to the coal industry in England are not readily available. However, every effort is being made to obtain these figures and full replies to the honorable senator’s questions will be given immediately information is available.
Debate resumed from the 24th Feb ruary (vide page 534), on motion by Senator Fraser -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– When the debate was adjourned last night, I was discussing the approximate amount that would be required to finance benefits to be provided under this measure. I said that the Medical Survey Committee estimated that the total number of prescriptions dispensed in Australia during the financial year 1942-43 was 20,000,000. Of that number, private pharmacists dispensed 11,600,000, lodge dispensaries 4,000,000, and doctors 500,000.
– Was this measure referred to the Social Security Committee?
– The Social Security Committee would not be likely to approve of this measure in its entirety?
– I could hardly say what would be the view of the committee on this measure. However, the Government has ignored the recommendations of that committee with respect to another measure dealing with social service benefits. I understand that the average cost of prescriptions in Victoria has been calculated at approximately 4s. 6d. The cost of dispensing the 20,000,000 prescriptions made up in Australia in the financial year 1942-43, at an average cost of 4s. each, would be £4,000,000. I give that figure to the Senate, because I intend to show that better value can be obtained for the expenditure proposed under this measure. Honorable senators will agree that in very many cases of illness greater assistance than the right to obtain a bottle of medicine free of charge should be given.
– Hear, hear!
– I am glad that the Minister for Health (Senator Fraser) realizes that fact. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, said, with justifiable pride, that typhoid fever and hydatids are now almost a medical curiosity in Australia. What a great achievement it would be if we could say the same about tuberculosis? When we can justly declare that tuberculosis is a medical curiosity in this country we shall have achieved a great deal for the betterment of humanity. The Social Security Committee heard much evidence on tuberculosis, and, in its sixth report, it stated -
The present position regarding tuberculosis in Australia is a reproach to all who, possessing knowledge of the facts, have not done everything in- their power to secure substantially improved facilities and increased financial provisions to provide for early detection of the disease, economic security for the tuberculous and their dependants, and modern facilities for treatment and, in suitable cases, occupational rehabilitation. Had these adequate services been provided, tuberculosis in Australia would now be a rare rather than a relatively common disease.
– Did the Social Security Committee deal with miners’ phthisis?
– The committee did not deal with that disease to the same degree as it considered tuberculosis. However, measures which are evolved to combat one disease will be equally effective in combating the other. This matter was stressed by the National Health and Medical Research Council as early as 1929 and has been dealt with in subsequent reports by the same body. Dr. M. J. Holmes, who has had a great deal of experience in work on tuberculosis, pre sented a noteworthy report to the Council on the 1st March, 1929, and recommendations were made by the Council in another report on the 3rd February, 1937. Later reports have been presented and recommendations made by the Social Security Committee. I refer to these in order to show that, although the Government has been given full information about this disease, which is a scourge that is gradually taking a severe toll of Australia’s life and health, very little hat been done to check it. I realize that in the main the States have conducted their own sanatoriums and adopted their own methods of dealing with tuberculous patients, but the Commonwealth Government has now informed us that it intends to make health a Commonwealth responsibility. I believe that the Commonwealth should undertake to deal with diseases which are Commonwealth-wide and from which the whole of the people of Australia require immediate protection. I estimate thai £4,000,000 is available for use by the Commonwealth for these purposes in a better way than previously proposed, lt is calculated by the State public health authorities throughout Australia that there are 30,000 cases of tuberculosis which would greatly benefit by modern treatment, and that the disease is responsible for 2,500 deaths annually. The numbers of those unknowingly suffering from the disease cannot be estimated, but the records of medical examinations of recruits for the fighting services show that quite a number of people, especially the younger ones, were infected and did not know it.
– Because of the dormant nature of the disease.
– That is why 1 want the Commonwealth to take steps to find out exactly who has the disease, and to provide means to combat it in the early stages. It spreads very easily among people whose resistance is lowered. This happens especially in families. At times it spreads fairly frequently from one infected member of a family to another unit of the same family. One of the greatest difficulties in the cure of the- disease is the length of time it takes. A man with a wife and family, who suddenly discovers that he is suffering from tuberculosis, if admitted to a sanatorium worries all the time that he is there about his wife and family who may be left in difficult circumstances’. This does not help him to recover, but he wants to get out as soon as possible, and in many cases he goes out before he is cured. The disease attacks him again, and he returns to a sanatorium in a worse state than when he was first admitted. The only way to correct that is to give him economic security by means of a suitable Commonwealth allowance, thus freeing him from anxiety about the welfare of his wife and family. He will then have a much greater chance of complete rest and recovery.
– I think we all subscribe to that policy.
– I should like to see the treatment and cure of tuberculous patients placed at the top of the list of our social services.
Senatorfraser. - The honorable senator will see it.
– I hope so, because it is of the greatest importance. An investigation was made in 1939 by the Division of Tuberculosis in New South Wales, into the after-histories of 767 patients who had been admitted to various sanatoriums in the State in 1934. The report stated that during the five years 350 had died of tuberculosis and 329 had been re-admitted to sanatoriums. Therefore, of a total of 767 practically half had died, and nearly another half had been re-admitted. That proves the urgent need for much more modern and effective treatment of tuberculosis sufferers. The 1943 report of the Medical Survey Committee correctly stated that there was a shortage of 2,963 beds in sanatoriums throughout Australia. This was confirmed by evidence taken by the Social Security Committee from medical witnesses in a number of Australian cities. Honorable senators will be concerned also to learn that it is not an uncommon experience for active, and in many cases advanced, cases of tuberculosis to be refused admission to sanatoriums owing to shortage of accommodation. Evidence taken by the committee showed that for many years in all sanatoriums there have been waiting lists containing in some cases as many as 200 names. All the evidence taken by the committee indicated a serious shortage of up-to-date facilities and equipment necessary for the treatment of patients by methods recognized in other countries as modem. The evidence also showed that early treatment was essential in order to combat the disease successfully.
The committee stated on page 10 of its sixth interim report, that the following proposals had been made for locating sufferers from the disease in its early stages, when a complete cure was most likely to result from prompt and expert treatment -
The evidence showed clearly that adolescents were more susceptible than older persons -
There is a great deal more in the report, emphasizing the necessity for early detection of the disease in order to effect cures and prevent its spread. Strong recommendations were also made by the committee for the proper treatment of patients, by means which included occupational therapy and rehabilitation. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
The following papers were presented:
Lands Acquisition Act and National Security (Supplementary) Regulations - Orders - Land acquired for Commonwealth purposes -
Lithgow, New South Wales.
National Security Act - National Security (Timber Control) Regulations - Order - Control of Timber No. 13.
Senate adjourned at 3.29 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 25 February 1944, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1944/19440225_senate_17_177/>.