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Monday, 5 June 1939

Mr STREET - For what does the honorable member suggest a standing army of 50,000?

Mr MAHONEY - To ensure .world peace and the preservation of democratic rights. If that were the Government's purpose, there would never be any difficulty in securing volunteers. If a standing army were paid on the same basis as the recently constituted Darwin garrison there would be no lack of volunteers. No trouble was experienced in securing over 70,000 volunteers for the militia.

Mr Street - No trouble was anticipated.

Mr MAHONEY - Then why is the Government bringing down a compulsory measure such as this?

Mr Street - The honorable member should read my second-reading speech.

Mr MAHONEY - I read the Minister's speech, in bed and in the train, and I could find in it nothing relating to the real defence of this country.

It has been said that one volunteer is worth ten pressed men. If that is so, why is the Government now introducing this measure of compulsion? If the Government proposes to plan for the economic development of the country, let it do so on a comprehensive scale, and in such a way as to provide employment for the thousands of youths who leave school every year. Walking the streets of the city of Melbourne are scores and scores of college-educated boya with leaving certificates, who are unable to find work. Let the Government provide those boys with jobs ;ind give them something to fight for, and there will be no need to compel them to defend their country. Evidently the Government proposes to do the same as was done during the last war when it sent to every man cards inquiring why he had not enlisted. They sent one to me.

Mr Ward - The honorable member did not join up?

Mr MAHONEY - I did not, and never once did the men who went to the waT ask me to go; it was those who stayed at home, the " soolers ", who tried to make me go. This measure provides that all males over the age of eighteen roust register. Why put the age as low as eighteen ?

Mr Brennan - They should be at school.

Mr MAHONEY - Of course they should. They should remain at school until they are placed in industry. I do not understand how the Government can expect to get away with this measure, which will bring about its downfall yet. The workers, the trade unions, and private citizens by the thousand have asked me to do everything in my power to oppose the introduction of conscription. They do not want their 'boys to be placed under the control of the swashbuckling military officers, to whom they will he handed over if this Government has its way. God forbid that my son should ever be left to the mercy of some of the military officers in the barracks at Hobart! If honorable members want to know why I am opposed to conscription, I shall tell them a story of what I know of some of those men.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill.

Mr MAHONEY - Surely I shall be permitted to state my objections to the introduction of compulsory military service. The Government evidently proposes to take these youths for training at an age when they require the greatest care and attention from their parents. It is at that age that youths become either good citizens or useless, and they will not be helped to become good citizens if they are left at the mercy of the military machine. We know that there would be grave danger of their suffering moral and spiritual injury. Whenever compulsory military training has been introduced, moral standards have deteriorated. The bill provides that if youths do not register they will be fined. The Government proposes to make little criminals of them under a new military code. I have travelled widely in Australia, and have spoken to thousands of men on this subject of the defence of Australia, and never once has a man said to me that it would be necessary to compel him to defend his country. I have asked them whether I could quote them as saying that, and they told me that I could. I have discussed this matter with some of the most radical men in the labour movement, and without exception they have all stated that they were ready to defend Australia under a system of voluntary enlistment, but that they will not support conscription. Members of the Government accuse the Opposition, of being opposed to the adequate defence of Australia, hut that is untrue. We favour adequate defence measures, but we are opposed to this bill because we know it to be a thinly disguised attempt to introduce compulsory military training. I have been authorized by the workers to use every means in my power to oppose this measure, and to appose compulsory training. All those who are opposed to the totalitarian system of government, with its brutal destruction of individual liberty, must necessarily be opposed to this measure. This proposal is directly opposed to the interests of the workers. It is a blow at their most cherished liberties. It is a proposal to hand the people over to the military caste. Under the guise of a simple, inoffensive hill for a national register, the Government is seeking to pave the way for the introduction of conscription. The workers will not be deceived, however. They recognize it for what it is - an attempt to impose totalitarian government upon Australia, and to rivet the shackles of conscription on the wrists of the workers. I oppose the bill.

Sitting suspended from. 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Debate interrupted.

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