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Thursday, 16 November 1939

Mr MCHUGH - And what they are going to be paid.

Mr WHITE - Pay is another of the factors operating against enlistment. It is a question of back to the rates of 1914. But we do not say that about parliamentary salaries. In 1914 members of this Parliament received £650 a year; to-day we get £1,000 a year. The soldiers, however, are on approximately the 1914 rate. This is a matter that should be looked at. I think the men should be given a fair rate of pay in whatever arm of the forces they are serving.

In the proposed Australian air expeditionary force an aircraftsman is paid 5s. a day, whereas during the last war a second air mechanic received 8s. a day when Australian currency was at parity with sterling. To-day the purchasing power of Australian currency is considerably below sterling. The Minister may say that there are gradations in the forces, but the point is that the air mechanic at the bottom of the list is to receive pay which is equivalent to that of a private in the infantry. If he should go abroad, he will receive 6s. a day, whereas a mechanic in civil employment receives approximately £5 a week. Under these conditions it is a test of the patriotism of young Australian mechanics to ask them to volunteer for oversea service. The ordinary labourer receives the basic wage, plus extra payment for any skill which, he- may possess ; yet that does not apply to a mechanic in the Air Force to-day, although it did apply during the last war. Yesterday I asked the Prime Minister if there was a shortage of volunteers for service as mechanics with the proposed air expeditionary force owing to the low rate of pay, and I was assured that there was not. I hope that is so, but I think the Government should look into this matter and offer a reasonable rate. In our small air force units that took part in the last war, better pay was given to the mechanics. Surely to-day when mechanics who service aeroplanes require a higher degree of technical skill, the rates of pay should be commensurate with their ability. Consideration should also he given to the greater risks that attend flying in the faster aircraft now operating. I am quite sure that there is more danger attached to flying a fast modern plane than was attached to aviation during the last war.

A man joining the Royal Australian Engineers in any State will receive after the deduction of allowances, approximately 8s. 9d. a. day. He must be a single nian and his service will be confined within Australian shores. Yet an unmarried private in the Australian infantry forces will receive 5s. a day, and there are allowances to the married man. If he goes overseas he will get 6s. It is entirely wrong that the men who risk their lives overseas should get such a paltry rate of pay when nien who enlist locally and who need not go outside .Australia - because the Government is committed definitely against any conscription for overseas service - can obtain rates comparable with the wages which they would receive in civil life, and may face no hardships. If that state of affairs had prevailed in 1914-18, Australia would not have achieved the excellent results it did. I say that without wishing to deprecate in any way the qualities of the men. This " backing and filling " to which not only the Melbourne Herald hut also other newspapers have referred on more than one occasion, has- created a great deal of discontent. It is only because the men feel that it is right to be patriotic and to refrain from criticism, that more complaints have not been heard. Honorable members of this Parliament have, however, an obligation- to rectify these matters. I repeat that very little encouragement is given for other men to enlist, the chief factor being the uncertainty regarding the future and the low rates of pay.

Mr McHugh - The honorable member is putting up a good argument for voluntary service.

Mr WHITE - Not at all. At the outbreak of the last war, Australia had 45,000 militia men, all of whom had been in camp, and over 80,000 cadets who had received, training but who had not been in camp. Consequently, it was easy to get a nucleus of officers, non-commissioned officers, and men. That had a great deal to do with the good reputation and prowess of the first Australian Imperial Force.

Mr Street - Most of those officers were the product of previous voluntary training.

Mr WHITE - Yes, so far a3 the senior officers were concerned, hut secondlieutenants under the age of 23 had to go into the ranks; cadet officers were not recognized as Australian Imperial Force officers and had to drop their rank.

Yesterday, when I asked the Minister why there was not now an InspectorGeneral of the Australian -Military Forces, he replied that the position was a peacetime one. .But many peacetime posts are continued during war. I point out that Lieu tenant-General Squires was brought to Australia as Inspector-General under a contract for two years. Then the Minister has also recently introduced the command system under which Australia has been divided into new areas.

Mr Blackburn - Did not Parliament adopt that system ?

Mr WHITE - Yes, but it is anomalous that this peacetime idea is persisted with.

Mr Street - The honorable gentleman has missed the point. The reason for the change was to place Australia's organization on a wartime basis.

Ali-. WHITE. - Yes, but right up to the outbreak of war. the Prime Minister said that there would be no war. The plan was formulated in peacetime-

Mr Street - To work in wartime.

Mr WHITE - -So was the InspectorGeneralship. When an Inspector-General was appointed, it was not understood that he would take some other post in the event of war, but the Minister has persisted in the command system. I asked the honorable gentleman whether senior militia officers, such as brigadiers and major-generals who had commanded brigades in the last war, would be eligible for appointment to these commands or whether they would be superseded. He assured me that they would be eligible.

Mr Street - -I do not retract that assurance.

Mr WHITE - The honorable gentleman said that any senior militia officer might hold any or all of those posts, but. no militia officers were appointed. Lieutenant-generals and major-generals, some of whom, were elevated from the rank of colonel or lieutenant-general, were appointed. It is folly to continue with this system in time of war.

Mr Street - Does the honorable member prefer the base-commandant system to the command system?

Mr WHITE - Surely the Minister must realize that the command system only makes another channel through which communications must pass. The result will bo that officialdom will get a little deeper into the barbed wire entanglements of departmental red tape. Some excellent officers have been put into the commands.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 bo 8 p.m.

Mr WHITE - I believe that criticism in Parliament should be vigorous and active. If honorable members feel that there is anything wrong, or merits criticism, they should utter their criticism. Otherwise they are not fulfilling their obligations. Before dinner I had referred at some length to the leading article in last night's Melbourne Herald. It emphasized the necessity to give a better deal to the men of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force, and also discussed why there is difficulty in getting the required number of men. A statement should bo made on behalf of the Government at an: early date intimating the ultimate role of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force. We should also be told on what date it is to leave Australia. Additional information should be given in regard to pay. One adjustment has already been made. Perhaps the Government can make another. These remarks apply to the Air Force also.

I have already made some observations concerning the command system. I suggest that this re-organization could have been left until after the war. The Minister said that it was a war measure. It might have been. But I still contend that it could have been put aside for the present, for it may lead to undesirable complications. In making these remarks, I do not reflect in any way upon the officers concerned, who are all well trained in their profession and quite capable of filling their high posts. All I say is that they are in the wrong place at p resent. Their skill and knowledge are needed in other places.

Reference was made in the Prime Minister's statement to the n'ew arrangements in regard to defence control and management. The Prime Minister stated that the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) had been very overworked. I agree that lie has worked hard and has stood up to his task very well. At the same time, we must remember that it was not exactly a case of one man doing the work, for ho had as assistant the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Fairbairn). The trouble was that the Minister for Civil Aviation was not given sufficient work to do. He could have been entrusted with the complete control of the Air Force. A previous Minister desired to divorce civil aviation from the Defence Department. 1 opposed thi:-! as undesirable, for it would have invited overlapping and duplication, and in any case, in wartime, civil aviation is taken over by the Defence Department. The Minister for Civil Aviation prior to the re-arrangement - now the Minister for Air - is completely au fait with aviation, and he could have been given control of the Air Force.

I come now to the Navy. It was scarcely necessary, in my opinion, to place the Navy under the control of a separate Minister. However, if that procedure will have the result of relieving other Ministers of work, it will be a good thing.

Personally, I believe that as our Navy to-day is of about the same strength as during the last war, and is still without a capital ship, it was hardly necessary to appoint a Minister for the Navy.

Mr Mahoney - The Navy is doing a good job.

Mr WHITE - Exactly, and for that reason it could have been left alone. It scarcely needed additional ministerial direction.

I suppose the idea of co-ordinating defence activities occurred to the Government because of the action taken in Great Britain in this regard.

Mr Street - The plan was drawn up in 1932.

Mr WHITE - In Great Britain, Sir Thomas Inskip was appointed Minister for Co-ordinating Defence. Three members of this House had the opportunity of meeting Sir Thomas Inskip last year. We know that for a while the system did not operate very well in Great Britain. Sir Thomas Inskip was a wise lawyer, but it was not until a change was made in regard to hia portfolio, and a very experienced Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Chatfield, took his place, that an acceleration occurred. Lord Chatfield, by the way, holds the view that Australia should include a capital ship in its navy. We need not assume that because a certain scheme works well in England it will work well in Australia. It remains to be seen whether the co-ordination plan will fulfil expectations here. If it means that there will be an acceleration of work, it will be a good thing. If it merely means that there will be a narrowing down of Cabinet responsibility wth a step forward towards the dictatorial system of inner groups - which incidentally meant my departure from the Cabinet, because I felt that that system was a departure from the democratic joint responsibility of Cabinet - it will not be a good thing.

The Prime Minister is not necessarily in the best position to co-ordinate defence activities. [Leave to continue given."] We may learn, in this connexion, from what has been done in Great Britain, for it is not the Prime Minister of Great Britain who is the Minister Co-ordinating Defence Operations. Our Prime Minister as chief of the War Cabinet, chief of the Economic Cabinet- and Minister Co ordinating Defence, undoubtedly has his hands very full.

Mr Archie Cameron - He is also Treasurer.

Mr WHITE - But another Minister is now acting in that office. Without doubt we need the fullest possible coordination in our defence activities. For that reason, I suggest that the Minister Co-ordinating Defence should not take over any other activities that would detract from the attention that he can give to this highly important work.

In that connexion I refer to a broadcast which the Prime Minister made two or three weeks ago to the troops in camps throughout Australia. That is a procedure which is not followed in other countries except Germany where, I believe, broadcasts are made to the troops in the Siegfried Line. I contend that that procedure is unnecessary, expensive and unwarranted. Troops who go into camp should be allowed to give their full attention to the curriculum of training without being required to parade to listen to broadcasts irrespective of how distinguished the broadcasting politician may be.

Mr McCall - Were the troops paraded ?

Mr WHITE - A photograph was published in a radio journal showing troops on parade listening to the broadcast. I was not able to appreciate any particular need for the broadcast, although I listened to what was said. No doubt, the statement might have been interesting to some people. But troops did not go into camp for this; they are there for the purpose of training, and their protests in the press plainly showed they do not approve of such broadcasts.

Mr Mahoney - They do not wish to listen to politicians.

Mr WHITE - Quite so, and politicians, however distinguished they may be, or of whatever party, should not make broadcasts to the troops. - In connexion with this broadcast, I direct attention to the following paragraph which appeared in the Melbourne Argus of the 31st October :-

At the conclusion of the speech, when Mr. Menzies expressed regret at his inability to shake hands with each member of the Australian Imperial Force there was a unanimous chorus of shouts, groans and animal noises.

Mr MAHONEY (DENISON, TASMANIA) - What about " the little Digger's" hat?

Mr WHITE - All I say on the matter is that such posturing is unnecessary. There was no specially important pronouncement in the utterance of the Prime Minister.

Considerable reference was made in the Prime Minister's statement to the proposal to send an Australian air expeditionary force overseas. On the 30th September, he declared that six squadrons would be sent abroad as Australian units. Yesterday, the right honorable gentleman said -

Sometime ago I announced on behalf ot the Government that we were proposing to send to England an air expeditionary force of six squadrons, fully manned with flying and ground personnel. This decision was, I believe, enthusiastically received by the Australian people and by the Government of Great Britain.

It certainly was. In newspaper articles published at the time when the announcement was made it was definitely declared that this was the best form of help that Australia could give. The matter had been carefully investigated as the following passage from the Prime Minister's speech shows : -

After a very thorough examination of this problem by the Defence Department we find that after providing fully for our present and contingent requirements it will be possible also to train enough men to provide for the expeditionary force.

After the statement was made about out sending an air force overseas the Prime Minister, in a broadcast on the 11th October, said that all the Dominions, except South Africa, intended to send pilots and other personnel of the air force to Canada for training. In a reprint of the broadcast, reference is made again to the Air Expeditionary Force, and there is no suggestion of its abandonment. Yet we were casually told in the press of the 1st November that this useful Australian formation is not now to be sent.

While the Empire air scheme is excellent, and will no doubt result in the training of a very large number of pilots, we must bear in mind that this separate Australian unit would have been of great service and would have carried on the tradition of our squadrons of the last war. The air force will play a very important part in immediate war operations. I do not know that I go so far as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) in this connexion. He seemed to think that it was almost the sole consideration.

Mr CURTIN - I did not say that. What I said was that the air force is becoming a more significant feature of the war.

Mr WHITE - I agree with that view. We should not lull ourselves into any false sense of security because there has been no infantry action of any magnitude on the Western Front. We have to thank our realistic French ally for the Maginot Line. But if the British Air Force had not shown itself to be thoroughly efficient, I believe that the people of Great Britain would have suffered from the same kind of ruthlessness as the Polish people experienced a few weeks ago. A checkup of the figures shows that 800,000 Polish prisoners have been sent to Germany, and that some 40,000 other Polish troops escaped into Rumania. The remainder of the Polish people have been enslaved. We do not know what casualties the civil population has suffered. We should be very thankful that the British Air Force has shown that it is able to cope with the German force. Up to date, no very large scale attacks have been attempted by the German bombers. Some minor reconnaissance operations have occurred over the Orkney Islands and at a few other places, but our fighters have shown both in the United Kingdom and on the Western Front that they can deal with the German bombers and fighters. Had it not been for this, I have no doubt that British camps, aerodromes and industrial centres, if not the larger British cities, would have been subjected to very severe aerial bombardment. It has to be remembered that the Polish downfall occurred because the troops were bombed principally at their places of mobilization. Many troops did not get even to the points of mobilization. We know that Polish hangars and aerodromes were destroyed before the Polish aircraft got properly into action. These considerations indicate the very great importance of aerial development. It is therefore worth emphasizing that the action of the Dominions in joining in this Empire air scheme is sagacious in every respect. The Dominions have shown their loyalty to the Empire and their intention to stand for democratic government, liberty and justice. Dominion forces will no doubt be able to play a very effective part in aerial warfare, and for this reason the Empire air scheme is to be commended.

There was no necessity, however, to abandon the scheme to send six squadrons overseas, for the personnel of these squadrons could have been recruited quite easily. It was proposed to send four 'bomber squadrons and two fighter squadrons, and I urge the Government to give earnest and serious consideration to the revival of this project. Honorable members may read the statement of the Prime Minister as carefully as they like, but they will find no clear declarations in it as to why both schemes could not be carried out. The much bigger Empire .scheme will take some time to fructify. It would have been an excellent gesture, in my opinion, therefore, to have proceeded at once with the recruiting of the proposed air expeditionary force. The original announcement in connexion with this scheme was received with a chorus of approval and we were told that there had been the closest consultation between Great Britain and Australia. It seems strange, therefore, to be told now that, after further close consultation, the proposal was abandoned.

This kind of backing and filling is not satisfactory and deserves severe criticism. Let me emphasize again that defence is not a matter for the United Australia party, the United Country party or the Australian Labour party. Defence should be above party considerations, and honorable members of this Parliament should consider it so. We in Australia are in i very privileged position. For the most part, the war will be fought by that country which is the head-quarters of our Empire. Were we in Britain it would not be possible to sit in quiet debating comparatively trifling matters as we do here. We would know that we wore likely at any moment to be the object of attack by bombers, and our defences would have to be in readiness to meet them. At this distance from the scene of conflict, we have been able to prepare tardily for our defence. Something has been done, it is true, but our prepara- tions have been made all too slowly. Quoting again from the Herald leader,

The fault for the delay in recruiting Victoria's quota for the 2nd Australian Imperial Force lies with the Government, and a frank admission of that fault should be made to clear the reputation of our men.

There is work ahead for every citizen of the Commonwealth if - we are to achieve victory in this war. We must not only win the war, but we must win it as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. The present delay on the Western Front means only that Hitler is delaying the putting into execution of his ruthless policy because he finds that he is opposed, not to weak nations like Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, but to nations determined to see that freedom does not perish from the earth. We must remember that in this war we have not many friends. The United 'States of America sympathizes with us, and has given evidence of a good deal of moral support. Though we are aware that a few months back frequent attacks were made in newspapers in the United States of America on Hitlerism, and Britain and France were chided because they had not taken military measures to prevent the overrunning of Czechoslovakia, the fact remains that, at the present time, the chief objective of the United States of America is to keep out of the war. I do not say that in any critical spirit ; I am merely stating a fact. A. determined attempt is being made now to isolate the United States of America from the war. That nation has made up its mind to sell arms to the belligerents on a cash-and-carry basis. There are many people in the United States of America who would like to he with us, hut as a nation they are not giving us the support of their man-power. It is rather early yet to talk about a just peace and the laying down of our war aims. Our motives are not misunderstood anywhere in the world. Great Britain and France suffered much provocation before they took action. If they had not moved when they did, action might have been too late. Even this huge continent, which it is our duty to develop, might have come under foreign domination. The Prime Minister made reference to economic arrangements. It is our duty during these preparations to prepare for the slump when peace comes. In setting up these economic committees, and in making arrangements for the wholesale disposal of our primary products to Great Britain, we must ensure that we keep the channels of trade open. We know that Germany's policy envisages, not only military domination, but economic domination also. If we make an indecisive peace now, Germany will, in the future, repeat her present tactics. We have seen two wars in our lifetime. We must ensure that no future generation shall see another. It is our duty, therefore, to co-operate with Great Britain to the utmost.

Mr Ward - Let us change the record. This is just the same old stuff.

Mr WHITE - The honorable member has only been in the House for a few minutes but I point out that for years he has taken his inspiration from Russia. I hope that he is now disillusioned. It is a fact that there was some idealism in communism.

Mr Ward - When did the honorable member find that out?

Mr WHITE - I happened to be in Russia during the revolution.

Mr Gander - Which side did the honorable member take?

Mr WHITE - I was not taken round the country like a Cook's tourist, as were some honorable members of this House who visited Russia more recently. I was a fugitive there, and had to pass as a Russian. That was one of the experiences that impelled me to go into public life, so that I might do what I could to ensure that that kind of government should never come to Australia.

Mr. SPEAKER(Hon. Qt. J. Bell).The honorable members time has expired.

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