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Thursday, 16 November 1939

Mr CURTIN - Yes, and I venture to suggest that the vulnerability of this Commonwealth from all conceivable dangers would become increased should the Netherlands East Indies lose their fatherland or should its sovereignty actually disappear. In these circums tan ces, and in view of the speech of the Minister for External Affairs, it would appear to me that at least until the whole situation is clarified and assumes a more decisive complexion, the original statement made by me in this House that the maximum man-power of this country is needed here to ensure its safety, is one which needs no justification or alteration. I refuse to alter it. There are still possibilities of peace by discussion, and by agreement. But it is staring us in the face that we may not have peace; that the war may lose its unusual character and that we may have to partake in what has been properly described as the most, terrible and bloody struggle that civilization ha« ever known. I would point to all of the statements that have been made by present Ministers of State in Australia as to the trophy that Australia constitutes in time of war to a powerful enemy, the advantage that it could easily be to those who would profit by the occasion - those who, at present having no concern with us, but who, seeing probably as Russia saw when Germany invaded Poland, an opportunity to march in, would take advantage of a situation which they would not create, but which they would most certainly profit by once it was created. In the circumstances with which we are now faced it appears to me not only unwise but also bad policy at this juncture for the Government to train the man-power of this country for use in theatres far removed from this portion of the Empire. I shall not repeat the nature of the problem that would confront Australia were we subjected to ;i threat of invasion, or to the prospect of raiding. Obviously, the enormous expenditure of the Government is in itself an acknowledgment of the seriousness of the problem, and the steps that it has taken appear in general to be all based upon the realization that there is a problem at home, military, naval and air. It appears extraordinary that the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs should indicate the significance and importance of aerial power in the present war. I listened with interest to-day to the speech of the Acting Minister for Supply and Development concerning the hurried preparations being made to get the Government's air organization and aircraft manufacture on a sound basis ; but I remind Ministers that two years ago the members of this party said that the next major war would be decided in the air. The Empire air armada, a phrase used by the Prime Minister, represents in thi? present stage of the war, not only a weapon which is feared when war is waged against us, but also one which must be relied upon as being likely to exercise the most decisive effect upon the enemy. One can see these two fixed lines of defence with even large armies marshalled behind them unable to move merely because of the tremendous casualties that must be suffered by whichever side takes the offensive. And what is the result? The Minister for External Affairs said to-day -

At any hour Germany might decide to launch an air attack of great strength, not only upon vital objectives on land in the United Kingdom and France, but upon allied shipping in convoy and more particularly in port. This contingencyhas been fully considered, however, andwe may take it that the great encounter, when it comes, will be by no means a one-sided affair.

The Prime Minister quite properly has outlined the great amount of activity that the Government has displayed in organizing the forces of the Commonwealth. I merely say that we should have had more time to do this had the Labour party's policy, instead of being derided, been accepted, and had efforts been taken to place the Air Force of the Commonwealth on a better and sounder basis. In the meantime I am opposed to an expeditionary force leaving this Commonwealth for overseas. If the present efforts to restore peace should fail, our dangers will be increased, and while this uncertainty confronts us, then most certainly we ought not to agree to the depletion of our manpower, more particularly in respect of our men who are trained, or about to be trained, forthe Air Force, because the most effective form of defence that Australia can employ is in the air. We need great efficiency in the air. Indeed, I remember the Prime Minister saying that whilst we cannot hope to have a land army or a navy equal to that of a first- c lass power, it was within the possibilities of this country to build up an air force which, at least for defensive purposes, would be the equal of any air force that could bo brought against us. I think that the right honorable gentleman said that in one of his broadcast speeches.

Mr Menzies - I did.

Mr CURTIN - I agree with him, and I suggest that the economics of that form of defence gives to us for every £1,000 of expenditure far greater powers of resistance than we could achieve by other forms of resistance.

With regard to compulsory training, I say that we are against it. I see no justification for it.

Mr Archie Cameron - Yet the honor- able gentleman just said that we need our full man-power.

Mr CURTIN - I say that there is no justification for compulsory military training. I see no necessity for it. Indeed, the Government has been turning away volunteers for the Militia Forces. It has failed to provide training areas in various districts of Australia for volunteers, and more than that, which is its fundamental and greatest error, it has failed to pay the volunteers decently. Neither the men in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force nor the men in the Militia, nor the men who will be called up under the compulsory training proposals, are to be treated fairly from the point of view of their obligations as citizens and their responsibilities to their wives and children. Let me gi ve one instance. On the average - I shall take the statement of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Street) - the pay will be at the rate of 5s. a day for the soldier - 3s. a day for his wife, with1s. a day for each child. The 3s. a day for the wife will be sufficient only to pay the rent. That is all it will pay. [Leave to continue given.] The 3s. a day, or £11s. a week, will pay the rent. The rate of1s. a day for a child is about the rate fixed by child welfare departments in respect of the upkeep of indigent children. Then, how much of his 5s. a day will the soldier be able to allot to his wife and family?

Mr.Street. - He must allot threefifths.

Mr CURTIN - That means that the soldier's allowance will be 2s. a day, whilst his wife will receive 3s. a day or one guinea a week. This is all the Government proposes to provide for the upkeep of the home of a soldier, a citizen who would otherwise be following his ordinary avocation.

This Government proclaimed that it would not conscript men for military services. Ministers have made speeches which at least bear the construction that compulsion over the people of Australia was alien to the Government's intentions. If the right honorable the Prime Minister does not accept that as a fair statement of his Government's position I at least say it can be regarded as a fair interpretation of the statements made by Mr. Lyons, the then Prime Minister of this Commonwealth, when he resisted my attack upon him prior to the last general elections.

Mr.Menzies. - I challenge that.

Mr CURTIN - I still say that that was my reading of the late Prime Minister's statements. However, let that go. At any rate, men volunteered in numbers in excess of the total for which the Defence Department could provide. It could not train all of them. Now it has failed to pay them properly. It is obvious that these men had commitments. After all, of what type is the man who is the real Australian when his country is in danger ? Generally speaking, without making any reflection upon any body, he is a man who looks to the future, and has concern foi his standing in the community. Probably he is endeavouring to buy his home, paying it off by instalments. He has an insurance policy, so that should he pass away the house he has been paying for will not be lost to his family. These obligations can reasonably be regarded ascharacteristic of those undertaken by the average volunteer. But the Government took no account of those factors. It failed altogether to treat properly the manpower of this country, and, therefore, it failed to get a full quota for the 6th Division. Furthermore, there was a certain amount of discontent as between the man who left his job to volunteer - the man who was told to spend £3 on personal equipment when he went into camp in order to be trained, and who had to make financial sacrifices as the head of his household in order to train himself jo defend his country - and the contractor who built the hut in which this man was to sleep while in camp. Was the contractor asked to make financial sacrifices? No. He was given 5 per cent, above all his costs. And how were his costs incurred ? By sub-letting the job. And on what basis were the contracts sub-let ? On a competitive basis? No. Many of these contractors - and I challenge an investigation on this point - simply sub-let their contracts to satellites and associates, and there was no competition in the business at all. The higher the costs charged by the sub-contractor the greater was the ultimate profit of the contractor. That was the vast distinction which the Government made between the men of this country who were prepared to train themselves to defend it, and big business. If there has been any fault in the system of voluntary training, it is entirely attributable to the miserable outlook which the Government has exhibited towards the family responsibilities of the patriotic men of this nation. The men of Australia would never fail Australia. But what does the Government say to them?

It says in effect, " Now that you are 22 years of age, or 24, or 30, and you will not enlist to serve overseas, well, there is nothing we have for you to do. We will not train you, and we do not need you ". That is what the Government now says. Let this nation realize that there has been a closedown on voluntary enlistments for the Militia. The only other forces available are the 2nd Australian Imperial Force which involves service overseas, or the force of youths who this year will attain their twenty-first birthday. The latter are to be compelled to serve, but any other who is not ready to serve overseas is being turned away. Yet this is the Government which affronts the patriotism of the Australian people by the imposition of compulsory training. There is no justification for compulsory training.

Furthermore, the organization of military camps needs to he very considerably improved. In this respect, I make no reflection upon the Minister for the Army. I agree with the Prime Minister who very properly said yesterday that the Minister has been doing more than one man's work and a great deal more, perhaps, than another occupant of his position would, or could, have done. I have the utmost admiration for his unflagging zeal, and his fairness in considering matters which I have brought before him. It is the principle of this thing which I attack, and I sincerely hope that as the result of the division of duties in respect of our defence services the Minister will be able to exercise a greater personal authority over his department than he has hitherto been able to do. I am criticizing not the Minister, but the Government's pay sheet, which is the chief factor in this connexion. Many men are being turned away from cam]) because they are physically unfit. I have read that numbers of them who had passed the preliminary medical test were again examined on being put into camp, and in one camp alone, Ingleburn, 200 of them were discharged. I make this general statement, which I think is fair. The fact that so very many men should be physically unfit is in itself a reflection on what has happened in Australia during the last ten years. Obviously their physical condition is associated with the failure of this community to give them that kind of atmosphere and treatment which would enable them to develop sound physique. Bear in mind also that numbers of these men were probably ten, twelve or fourteen years of age during the depth of the depression. Bad social conditions have weakened the defensive power of this country.

Mr McCall - Most cases of physical deficiencies are inherited.

Mr CURTIN - I do not agree with the honorable member. This countryhas, at least, very good food, and all of the attributes needed to develop a sound healthy man-power. This weakness to-day is due not to any inability on our part to produce good food but to the fact that so many of our people have not had sufficient money to buy that food. In any case I say in regard to camps and the physical condition of the men in the camps that the Government has a social problem which it should tackle right away.

I was greatly interested in the fact that the Prime Minister envisaged, as a result of the economic activity of the Government in time of war, the unlikelihood of any reversion, when the war was over, to the economic structure as we now know it. He has associated with the Government a veritable legion of officials. I believe that if my side occupied the treasury bench and we had appointed this army of consultants, these boards and committees and this super-structure of officialdom which theright honorable gentleman has established, we would have been criticized as almost having taken advantage of the war to enforce a state of semi-socialism upon the community. All I have to say is that if that be the kind of thing the right honorable gentleman has in mind, he is " doing the Lord's work ". A committee to direct investments, or to influence the direction of investments, appears to me to be a perfectly sound thing. I see no reason why there should be no restraint upon private enterprise in the investment of large sums of money on capital projects which would not minister to the economic and social purposes of the nation. I quite agree that there should be some management of private capital in that connexion. The fact is that we have scrapped private enterprise as the machinery for marketing. To a very large degree, the Government says that private enterprise is not to be trusted to deal fairly with prices or with the services it renders to the community, and it has arranged this vast accountancy system in order to examine all that private enterprise does. Very good. Capitalism cannot fight the war and the workers in every war are the chief losers. We simply say that we know that this Government and this nation are no more responsible for the present state of affairs than is the Opposition. We believe that the British Government itself can face the whole world fair in the face as having no responsibility for the state of affairs that has been brought about. That is my estimate of the work of Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Halifax and of the British Government. I say that frankly; but I say that the causes which worked in Europe are causes which in character if not in the same magnitude are causes which are to be found in every country of the world. They make for the demoralization of the national life. It is of the first importance that during this war we should have constantly before us the purity of our principles and the idealism of our struggle. If once we lose these as the keynotes of the declarations we repeatedly make, not only will we lose the soul of this Commonwealth and the prin- ciples for which we have entered upon this struggle, but also we shall abandon every possibility of ever winning it for the good of mankind. Victory need not necessarily mean success. Success is a vastly different thing. It may depend on victory if peace by negotiation and by agreement should fail, but neither victory nor negotiation in themselves will accomplish for this world what I believe it is seeking - relief from the menace of being embroiled inothers' struggles, and the advantage of having all the tremendous possibilities of the social order made available even to the humblest man or woman of whatever race they may be and wherever they may be located. We have been through one terrible chapter of world history. Most of the men and women of this generation know what it means, even here so many thousands of miles from the scene of conflict. Even in this land there are hospitals and asylums in which are to he seen the living memorials of the dire agony which is war. I say that if that sort of thing could be brought to an end as the result of peaceful discussions - not because I entertain any spirit of defeatism but because I believe in that larger outlook for the good of mankind - whatever may have led us into this desperate struggle, at least to the degree that we can reduce to a sense of regard for others the spirit which made this war, then to that extent do we make more definite its final end.

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