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Thursday, 16 November 1939

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- The general public must have been greatly disappointed with the speech delivered yesterday by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), because they are entitled to know exactly what this war is about, and what we are supposed to be fighting for. According to my recollection of the speech yesterday, the Prime Ministerstated that, following the declaration of war by Great Britain, Australia, as a component of the British Empire, was automatically at war. The reason given for the declaration of war was that Britain and France were under some obligation to protect the boundaries of Poland. Actually. Poland, as a nation, has ceased to exist. Nevertheless, so we are told. Great Britain and France are determined to continue this conflict for the purpose of restoring Poland to its former position. I agree with the Leader of the Country party (Mr. Archie Cameron) in one respect only. In his speech this afternoon, he reminded the House that a portion of the territory of Poland is now under the control of Germany, against which we have declared war, and another portion is now controlled by the Soviet Government against which we have not made a declaration of war; so there is no force now in the argument made by various leaders, that we are fighting to restore the boundaries of Poland as they existed before the conflict began. I am firmly of the opinion that irrespective of how long this war lasts, the boundaries of Poland will not be restored to what they were prior to the commencement of hostilities. Therefore, the sensible thing to do is to adopt the suggestion of the -Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), namely, that instead of carrying on this stupid conflict which cannot bring benefit to the workers of any country, an effort should be made, at the earliest possible moment, to summon a conference of the major nations for the purpose of ending it.

Need I remind those honorable members who claim that we are fighting to defend democracy of what has happened in this country already, although, according to the Prime Minister, the war has not yet commenced? At the outset we were asked to co-operate with the Government in its conduct of the war. This Parliament, in the first days of the conflict, passed certain legislation, including the National Security Act, conferring on the Government wide powers with regard to censorship and other matters. We were given to understand that these powers would be exercised only for the purpose of preventing the publication of information that might be of value to the enemy. But what has happened? A few days ago reports appeared in the newspapers of an industrial conflict in Sydney, in which a number of Lascar seamen were involved. These men were being paid the paltry wage of 27s. a month. Honorable members should not forget that these seamen are British subjects, with all the rights and liberties which that status connotes ; yet, as I have stated, they were receiving the beggarly wage of 27s. a month. I understand that their wages were less until the vessel on which they were employed entered Australian waters. Because of the outbreak of war, all seamen now have to face greater dangers than those to which they were exposed in time of peace - dangers designated ordinarily as the act of God. Now they have to face the risk of attack by submarines or of being destroyed by mines, and because these Lascar seamen refused to continue working without additional pay, legal action was taken against them. Acting under the powers conferred upon it by this Parliament, the Government, through the responsible Minister, has instructed that no report shall be published concerning prosecutions which have been instituted against these men. Thus, it will be seen that early in the conflict, although the Government said that no action would be taken to interfere unnecessarily with the civil liberties of the people, the powers which it now possesses are being used against workers involved in an industrial dispute. This being so,, I suggest to the workers that if they want to defend democracy, they should first pay some attention to what is happening in this country.

The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) this afternoon declared that the Poles were now in a condition of serfdom. Were they in a better position before the commencement of this war? It may be true that they were nationals in control of a particular territory, but beyond that the people did not enjoy much freedom or liberty. What is the position of the people of India? We have been told on innumerable occasions that India is to be given the right of self-government. As a mater of fact, one of the conditions upon which the people of India gave aid to Britain and her Allies in the last war was the understanding that, at the earliest possible moment, the people of India would be given the right of self-government. Up to the present time, however, that undertaking has not been fully honoured. That is one of the reasons why the Indian Congress refused recently to give full co-operation to the British Government in its war efforts.

Let as examine further the statement of the Prime Minister with relation to our war aims. The right honorable gentleman said yesterday -

The first and paramount and urgent aim is victory; not for the glory of victory; not for the humiliation of the German people; not for the spoils, but victory for all that it means to the future peace and happiness of simple men and women the world over. No patched up peace, no mere formula of compromise can give to the world any assurance of a peace that will endure.

Similar declarations were made during the last war, and we know how much they meant to the people of this country. I invite honorable members to read also a recent comment made by the AttorneyGeneral in an endeavour to secure some allies for Britain and France in this conflict, because I understand, from the speech of the Prime Minister, that Great Britain and France have been to some extent isolated in this conflict. A Sydney newspaper, reporting an interview with the Attorney-General, said this -

The Federal Attorney-General (Mr. W. M. Hughes) sees nothing objectionable in the prayer, contained in the second verse of the National Anthem that God should "Scatter our Enemies". "After all, the only way to get peace is to beat Germany to her knees."

That statement is in marked contrast to the declaration of the Prime Minister who told us that this Government had no desire to humiliate or destroy the German nation or interfere in any way with the livelihood of the German people.

Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Minister, in declaring the war aims of the British Government spoke in terms similar to those employed by our Prime Minister. He said -

We are fighting in defence of freedom ; we are fighting for peace. We are meeting a challenge to our own security and thatof others. We are fighting to maintain the rule of law and the quality ofmercy in dealings between man and man and in the great society of civilized states.

Since this conflict began, I have examined carefully the statements of the various leaders and have tried to ascertain what benefit is likely to be secured for the workers of any country, 'and I have come to the conclusion that the workers in every part of the world, regardless of whether their nation be declared the victor or the vanquished, will be the losers. That was our experience in the last war. Government supporters will tell us that some of the things that happened in the last war are not likely to happen in connexion with this war.

This Government has commenced to finance this war along lines followed in the last war. The effect of that financial policy has been to increase the national debt of the Commonwealth to approximately £1,300,000,000. A very large proportion of that debt is due directly to our participation in the last war. There is now an enormous debt burden resting on the shoulders of the people. When this country was feeling the full force of the depression some years ago, the Government declared that the interest charge on the national debt was sacrosanct; that interest payments must be met on the due date, although the workers were expected to be satisfied with smaller incomes and a lower standard of living. If we start this war, as we do, with a national debt of £1,300,000,000, and if we spend at a rate fourtimes greater than the rate of spending during the last war, as it is said we are doing ; and if this war lasts as long as the last war, as some people say it will do, if not longer, how will the people be able to face a national debt at the end of the war of more than £5,000,000,000? What will the legislators of the country call upon the people to do in order that the bondholders may have their interest rake-off? Of course the living conditions of the people, low as they are now, will be forced to a still lower level. The people will be reduced to a condition of serfdom such as the Poles were in, even prior to the outbreak of the present war. It is all very well to view things from a distance or from the point of view of other countries, but let us look at them for a moment as they concern the peoples of the British Empire. Here is a report which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 27th July last -

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