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Thursday, 16 November 1939


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (BarkerLeader of the Country party) . - I listened to a good deal of what was said by Ministers in the typewritten statements they read and subsequently circulated. I have not read through them all, but there are two or three things that stand out beyond the others as being matters of urgency. Much of what was said by Ministers may be very interesting, but it did not contribute a great deal to an understanding of the problems before us, or to their solution.

Above all, we must realize that we are, unfortunately, at war with Germany and, notwithstanding what has been said by leading men of various political parties during the last few weeks, we are at war, not only with the German Government, but also with the German people. We are at war with the armed forces of Germany, whether on land or on sea or in the air, and we are at war with the economic power behind those forces. If that is not so, then we are at peace. Talk about being at war with the German Government and not with the German people is merely so much eye-wash, so much self-deception. When we go to war we have only one objective: that is, to impose our national will on the country we have selected as an enemy. Our present objective is to impose the FranceBritish will on the German Reich. We may regret that it is not possible to do this by diplomatic means. Diplomacy implies resort to argument, the bringing of reason to bear on the other party, but diplomacy as a solvent of the Polish problem unfortunately failed. In honouring certain commitments which Great Britain and France gave to Poland we find ourselves at war with Germany. War is the doctrine of force. We kill, we blockade. We impose our will by any means recognized by international law. In the course of an interesting speech - with which I did not agree - something was said this afternoon by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) of peace bv negotiation. Something of that kind is implied also in the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) when he said that, speaking for himself, he had little doubt that those two remarkable circumstances - the possibility of peace by arrangement through certain neutral countries, and the stalemate on the Western Front - were closely associated. Whether he used that language deliberately I do not know, but I should say that the first thing we ought to expect from the head of the Government, particularly in wartime, is that he should speak, not for himself, but for the Government that he leads. Something has been said about peace by negotiation, and something also of peace by victory. As I see the matter, until you are a victor you are not in a position to impose peace.

If you secure peace by any other means than victory, you must secure it by negotiation, but peace by negotiation should never be confused with peace by victory. When you go to war you must arrive at one of three conclusions : you win, you lose, or you draw. If you win, you impose terms of peace; if you lose, the terms of peace are imposed on you. It is the lot of those beaten in war to suffer, sign and obey. Peace by negotiation signifies that you neither win nor lose - that, in fact, you draw. It is very significant that we are at war to-day with a power which, a very few years ago, was considered to he one of the most completely disarmed nations in Europe. This afternoon, the Minister for External Affairs (Sir Henry Gullett) stated, I understand, that the German forces on the Western Front were reputed to be the stronger of the two opposing sides. If that be so, then those forces have been brought to that state of perfection, that standard of strength, in a much shorter time than was available to Great Britain and France, who were not restricted by the Versailles Treaty which imposed conditions fully upon Germany until 1933, and to a lesser extent after that time. We must be clear in our minds when we speak of such matters as peace by negotiation. If it is our purpose to uphold the rights of members of the British community, the rights of the common man, of which we hear so much, we should be careful in talking of peace by negotiation to gentlemen of the type of those who are to-day in control in Berlin and Moscow. We are to-day at war with Germany because that country, in the face of our guarantee, invaded Poland; hut, significantly enough, we are not at war with Russia which did the same thing, and did it in circumstances that made it more blameworthy even than Germany. We have imposed an economic blockade on Germany because the forces of that country invaded Poland, but the British Government has entered into a trade agreement with Russia which did the very same thing. We cannot be altogether oblivious of these facts. I am not one of those who seek to muster the greatest number of enemies, but we must take facts like these into consideration.


Mr Curtin - The honorable member attracts enemies as a mere matter of course.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Weil, something has been said about making one's enemies one's footstool. The Leader of the Opposition also called attention to the peace efforts which are being made by the Sovereigns of Holland and Belgium, and referred to certain possessions which are held by Holland to the north of Australia. Beyond that, I do not know that he exhibited any great interest in them. But it is a significant fact that other powers in the world to-day are deeply concerned about the fate which will overtake the Netherlands East Indies in the event of Holland being involved in war in Europe. There are people in this community who talk a lot about the line-up of democratic against dictatorship powers. It has been suggested by some responsible people - I have no doubt that they would be classed as such - that the Scandinavian and Low Countries should link up with Great Britain and France in order to face this danger. I do not expect the governments of any of those countries to be so inclined to suicide as to embark on such a course. Holland and Belgium are both colonial powers, both have commitments overseas ; but they cannot afford to take part in a war on either side in which Germany and France and Great Britain are the antagonists. If they come in against us we shall very quickly collar their possessions. There is no doubt about that. If they come in on our side they will be quickly invaded by German armies. So there is every reason in the world for the governments of those countries to attempt to pursue a neutral course. But what I should like to have from the Leader of the Opposition, on some future occasion, is his reply to this very simple question: In the event of a possession of the democratic power of Holland so close to us as to be capable of being used against us falling or threatening to fall into the hands of some other power, what action will the Labour party take if it is in office?


Mr Curtin - I answered that to-day by saying that until the situation was clarified no man should leave Australia.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Then the Leader of the Opposition, by implication, now says that, if that danger exists, he is in favour of an expeditionary force going to the Dutch East Indies.

As I see the position, the Government of this country is faced with two chief responsibilities. The first is the responsibility of the Government for the proper security of this country, and the second is the responsibility of Australia towards its fellow members of the British Empire. Those two responsibilities will have to be very carefully studied. "We can lay it down as a first principle that the Government's primary duty is to provide for the effective defence of this country by sea, air and land. There can be no argument about that, although there may be arguments between ourselves and the Leader of the Opposition and some of his party on the methods which we should employ in order to ensure that security for this country. In the opinion of my party, we must stand up to a system of universal and compulsory military training. I am extremely pleased on this occasion to note that my friend the Minister for the Army (Mr. Street) is a convert to the cause which I and others have for so long advocated as one of the primary military requirements of this country. My only criticism in this regard is that the Government started at the wrong end of the scale. In re-introducing compulsory military training the Government should have started with that class of men which was first exempted by the Scullin Government ten years ago. In other words, the Government should have started just where the Labour Government left off and worked back towards the men of 21 and 22 years of age. The Leader of the Opposition said that he believed that, in the event of an attack on this country, every man in Australia would be needed. I. think that he advanced that as one of the reasons why no man should be sent out of this country. If he believes that every man in the community will be needed for the effective 'defence of this country he has no alternative to agreeing that every man in this community should be properly trained for the defence of this country. It is ridiculous to raise a proposition of that type on a voluntary basis because it must fail.

In order to carry out our duty to our sister dominions and the mother country in this Commonwealth of Nations, or British Empire, whichever you like to call it, we must be prepared to intervene wherever we are wanted by the provision of expeditionary forces, subject always to the security of our own country being provided for. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) said emphatically that the Opposition did not desire the defeat of Great Britain. I did not think any one would suggest that the Opposition has that desire, but I should have been happy to hear from the honorable gentleman a statement giving in broad outline some idea of the measures which his party thought should be put into force to help Great Britain towards that victory for which we should be looking.


Mr Curtin - Subject to two cardinal differences of method between ourselves and the Government I gave a general subscription to the policy which the Government is carrying out. It is not for me to lay down plans.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I should be glad to hear in the future the Opposition detail its views as to how this country should contribute towards that general victory for the British forces which is necessary to the security of the British Empire as a whole and this country as a component part of that Empire.

My fourth point concerns the forces which may have to go overseas. I plead with the Minister that it be absolutely laid down by this Government that the Australian units serving overseas shall preserve a separate entity and identity, whether they be sea, land or air forces, and that they shall fight, wherever they happen to go, as Australian units and under Australian command.

My next point is in regard to the full use of veteran experience. I beg to differ from the age limit which has been laid down' by the Commonwealth Government. It is no satisfaction to me to be informed that that is the standard of age which has been accepted by the United Kingdom. What the Australian people want from this Government above all other things is a clear statement that the defence policy and military measures of this country have been founded in Canberra by an Australian government with a prime view towards realizing Australian objectives and coping with Australian necessities. There is a belief amongst the people outside - and it is well that the Government should know it - that too much influence is being exercised by London opinion on the defence measures of the Commonwealth Government. A concrete example of this is the standard of ages laid down, according to which I am practically five years too old for active service. I do not think that I look like it, and I assure the Minister for the Army that I do not feel like it. There are plenty of other men in the same position as myself. Amongst our men who served in the last war are many who are able to give valuable experience to those forces which may go overseas. The honorable Minister was on Gallipoli - I was not - and knows the price paid in Australian lives on the Peninsula to get certain experience. That price should not be paid a second time by an Australian expeditionary force,because there are men here who can impart to our forces a great deal of that experience. Technical advisers may argue that war is more mechanical than it was in the years 1914-18, but, if the men who served in the last war have had no experience of mechanical warfare, nobody younger than they has either.

We should aim at a maximum range of output of munitions in this country. Looking at the map of the world and the British Empire we see that Australia is situated at a very important point. About 80 per cent. of the Empire's territory impinges on the Pacific and Indian Oceans. A ustralia is almost centrally situated, and is in an excellent position to provide for the supply of munitions to all British countries which border on the Pacific and I ndian Oceans or are contained within them.

Then there is the subject of training. I think that we should use to the fullest possible extent every facility for training our troops in our own country and under our own conditions. The Minister for the Army should produce without delay some clear, comprehensive statement of our commitments in regard to the Canadian air-training' scheme. I have nothing against the Air Force, naturally, but. I have very grave doubts whether the scheme, seen from the Empire point of view, is the best. If you look at it from the viewpoint of Canada's immunity from attack, good! certainly. If you have regard to the similarity of meteorological conditions in Europe and Canada, again good ! But Canada and Europe are not the whole of the Empire, and I believe that the air force that will be engaged in the British Empire throughout this war, if it should unfortunately spread, will be of such magnitude that we shall be warranted in having proper training facilities much closer to home than Canada.


Mr Street - I do not think that the honorable member will be disappointed.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - You never know. I am a hard man to please at times. In respect of military pay and allowances, I do not want to go into that matter in great detail, because I expect that there will be a further opportunity to debate it, but, when the Government tells the fighting men of this country that they and their dependants are to receive a lower standard of living than those who are engaged in private industry, say the manufacture of munitions, it is adopting a policy which, I feel sure, will not be acceptable to the general community. One interesting point arises out of the pay, and that is the attitude of the Government towards the Militia Forces. Last summer there was a great recruiting campaign. I was a member of the Government at that time, but I did not take any part in the campaign.


Mr Lane - Why not?


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Partly because I had better things to do. In any case I am not a lover of the voluntary system. Ministers went on to platforms and said that the rate of pay would be 8s. a day. If the Government's promise meant anything, it meant that the rate of pay would be 8s. at all times, and under all conditions.There were no tags.


Mr Street - There was a tag in a technical sense. The rate of pay was to be 5s. a day plus a peace training allowance of 3s. a day.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Has that allowance been abolished?


Mr Street - The peace training allowance has been abolished and the rate of pay is 5s. a day.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - If that is the position, I simply say that it is still more remarkable. The men are training under what may at any minute become service conditions, and it is something new in the world's history to lay down the principle that the rate of pay in wartime is to be lower than the rate of pay in peacetime.


Sir Charles Marr - The troops did not know it.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - That is correct.


Mr Street - It has been published in every pamphlet issued.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I have no satisfaction from hearing the Minister say that there was some technicality in connexion with the matter. Men do not enlist on technical considerations, and the people of this community will not accept as a defence on the part of the Government the statement that the rate of pay was reduced from8s. to 5s. after some technical consideration of the terms of enlistment.


Mr Street - I do not put that forward as an excuse; I merely state the facts.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - It is a matter to which the Minister should give further consideration. There is also the question of Commonwealth responsibility for the dependants of those who serve. No section of the community will desire to escape that responsibility. Proper consideration should be given to the inauguration of a pension system for the benefit of those who may be injured in defensive operations.

I do not intend to go deeply into the subject of what should be done in regard to the military command system. I simply say that I have grave doubt whether the present divisional system operating in Australia is the best under our conditions. It may be suitable for countries overseas where there are larger popula tions and greater concentrations of people ; but in a country where the population is scattered over great areas and it is difficult to get a large number of troops together, a mixed brigade is about the greatest number that we can conveniently handle at one time. I agree with the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) in his criticism that the command system merely adds another link to the chain, absorbing more staff and personnel in non-fighting services, thereby rather complicating instead of simplifying the administration of military affairs in this country.


Mr Street - The honorable gentleman agreed to it when the bill was passed.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I agreed to the divisional system, as well, going from divisions down to brigades. The divisional system is what I am aiming at, not the command system.

There are many other matters in connexion with the Defence Department that could be dealt with, but I do not propose to touch upon them at this stage. A good dealhas been said by Ministers during the last few weeks, and a few administrative changes have been made. The Defence Department has been subdivided again. I shall not go into that matter, except to say that I have doubts of whether the right method has been adopted. It appears that we now have three Ministers for Defence, with a superMinister over them. I have great doubt of whether the Royal Australian Navy is of sufficient dimensions and importance to warrant even a moderate proportion of the time of one Minister being occupied in caring for its troubles and attending to its administration. The same might be said of the Royal Australian Air Force. I agree with the honorable member for Balaclava that the Air Force and the Civil Aviation Department could possibly best be administered by one Minister, because there must be a liaison and co-operation between them. I am possibly one of those old-fashioned persons who have a great respect for and faith in the principle of ministerial responsibility. Therefore, I am not one of the admirers of a system that will bring into close contact with cabinets and ministers a great number of committees.I fear that under that system. there will be too much of a tendency to delegate ministerial responsibility to members of committees, secretariats, and so forth, who cannot be conveniently got at by this Parliament. A democratic system of government, if it is to be successful, must rest on the principle of full and absolute ministerial and cabinet responsibility. We must not only know who these men are, but we must also be able to meet them face-to-face in this chamber, and deal with any grievances that we may have.







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