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Tuesday, 16 December 1941


Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Prime Minister) . - I lay upon the table of the House -

Documents relating to United States of America-Japanese Conversations, NovemberDecember, 1941.

Declaration of existence of state of war with Finland. Hungary, Rumania and Japan, 8th December, 1941 - Documents relating to procedure of His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia, and move -

That this House approves of the action of His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth in having advised the issue of proclamations declaring the existence of a state of war with Japan, Finland, Hungary and Rumania. Further, this House hereby pledges itself to take every step deemed necessary to defend this Commonwealth and its territories, to carryon hostilities in association with our allies, and to achieve final victory over our enemies.

When I last met honorable members of this House I indicated that, should the position in the Pacific deteriorate, the Parliament would again be called together. The White Papers that I have just tabled show the great efforts which were made by the United States of America, through its distinguished President, to maintain peace in the Pacific.

Honorable members will recall the statement made at the termination of the last sessional period by the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt), in which that honorable gentleman dealt with Australia's contribution towards meeting such problems as might bo likely to cause war in the Pacific. After the Parliament had adjourned, the Minister for External Affairs, other members of the Government, and I continued to do all that could be done in this country to arrest what appeared to bo a catastrophic drift. Later to-day, the Minister for External Affairs will deal i:n ure fully with that aspect of the matter. Suffice it to say now that, before the completion of the negotiations that were being conducted with the Japanese Empire by Hie United States of America, Japan struck - as I said elsewhere on another occasion - like an assassin in the night, against the United States of America and Great Britain. In so doing, the Japanese Empire struck at civilization. In that generic, if not quite properly understood, term, we include the Commonwealth of Australia. Therefore, the attacks made against Singapore and .Pearl Harbour, against Great Britain and the United States of America, are attacks which the Commonwealth of Australia accepts as constituting a direct attack upon itself.

Because of the view that we held of the state of affairs then existing, 1. had directed Ministers to adopt every precaution. They were to be continuously in attendance, and they were; and at the meeting of the full Cabinet held yesterday week the formal decisions in respect of a declaration of war against Finland, Hungary and Rumania were made. We did not, at that stage, make a formal declaration of war against Japan.. The delay in doing so was not due to lack of decision, but was the result of our appraisement of the chronological appropriateness of such action. By arrangement with the British Government, we acted immediately that Government considered the time appropriate to do so. In this matter, and for quite a long while, the Commonwealth of Australia has acted in conjunction with other governments; because it has been clear to us, and we shall make it clear to our enemies, that the conjunction of Allied forces, and the maximum of collaboration of which they are capable, not only are to be invoked, but indeed are to be made a rule of conduct, in the common prosecution of what inevitably is a common cause. Therefore, on the Tuesday, the Cabinet advised in the proper place what should be done, and the proclamation was issued, dating from the previous day, that this country was in a. state of war with the Japanese Empire. 2?ot only is this a development of over-riding significance in the history of our country, but it also creates a condition the consequence of which will affect the future life of this Commonwealth for hundreds of years to come. Against our will, without any seeking on our part, and despite all of our efforts to remain on terms of amity and peace with Japan, that Empire has made wanton war on us. As a result, the whole of the resources of this country, no matter what they may be or to whom they may belong, are threatened; therefore, as a matter of sheer necessity, they must be made available by the people of the Commonwealth for the waging of the war.

I shall not detail the steps which the Government has taken in the interim. A proclamation was issued calling up men for military service in accordance with the provisions of the Defence Act. It is a part of the law of this land that when such a proclamation is issued, should Parliament not then be sitting, it shall be summoned to meet within, ten days thereafter. That procedure the Government has followed, with the result that the Parliament is now asked to endorse the advice which led to the issue of the proclamation by the Governor-General of Australia on behalf of His Majesty the King. "We have to face the problem, gigantic as it may be, for a population of our numbers. We must be prepared to put into the war effort, everything that we have, and to act with a determination to leave nothing undone which, if done, would contribute to the earlier overthrow of the enemy. I shall attempt a short, general statement of the position as I see. i*:, leaving it to Ministers to deal with such consequential details as affect their departments. The general objective is made up of a great number of lesser objectives, each of which constitutes a problem in itself, and calls for direct executive competence and speedy action.

The organization, of a non-military people for the purposes of complete war must necessarily effect a revolution in the lives of the people. A transformation so great as that which,the Government regards as imperative is inevitably beset with many difficulties, and must create many problems. It may even be marked by some degree of confusion. There may be dislocation and disturbance which normally would be the occasion of considerable criticism and much fretfulness. People do not like their routine to be upset, but the enemy has already upset the routine of the nation. Whatever be the inconveniences or losses which the citizens of Australia may have to experience as the result of the complete conversion of the nation from, the pursuits of peace to those of war they will be as nothing compared with what is at stake. I know that in calling upon the people of Australia to act concertedly, in inviting them to give whatever they can to the service of the central administration,we may rely upon an effective response, because the people will acknowledge that such order and promptness as are necessary to deal with the emergency can be best achieved by obeying the directions of the authorities, rather than by wasting time in fault-finding, criticizing and opposing. The Advisory War Council will be constantly engaged in ensuring for the administration that co-operation of political parties which will demonstrate to the enemy the essential unity of the nation.

Broadly, the Australian defence position, as this Government found it on coming to office, and with Japan not a belligerent, was as follows - I state the situation objectively, and in a way with which I am sure honorable members opposite will agree:-

With adequate seapower Australia could be defended against invasion, but with the large commitments imposed on the Royal Navy through the defection of France and the possibility that the French Navy might be used against us, some form of insurance against raids and invasion on a large scale had to be provided. Although the Air Force is a particularly valuable weapon in the defence of Australia against sea-borne invasion, a long time would have to elapse before we could build up an air force of the requisite strength, having regard to -

(1)   our commitments under the Empire Air Training Scheme;

(2)   the difficulty of obtaining supplies of aircraft from overseas and the fact that, should the Royal Navy experience some disaster, seaborne supplies would become most precarious ;

(3)   the lengthy period that will be necessary for the expansion of the aircraft industry in Australia to the requisite degree.

Accordingly, in view of the development of our essential basic industries, the most effective step which could be taken in the shortest time was to increase the strength of the Army, and to provide as far as possible for self-sufficiency in the supply of munitions.

The extent of mobilization for home defence would depend upon any improvement in the Far Eastern position by the transfer of capital ships of the Royal Navy east of Suez, by any re-arrangement of naval dispositions with the United States of America, and, finally, by our political relations with Japan.

Japan, having decided on aggression, the Government has faced the facts in theonly realistic way in which it can discharge its obligations to the people of Australia and retain their confidence in these perilous times. For reasons of public security I cannot state more fully our dispositions, but in broad outline they are as follows : -

I shall deal first with naval defence. With the reverses which the American and British Navies have suffered, the deterrent to an attempt at invasion of our shores is not so great as it was. Nevertheless, the sea-power of Britain and the United States of America, visavis the Axis, is still superior, but we have to keep the trade routes of the world open, and this makes greater demands on our naval resources. However, a seaborne operation against Australia and the maintenance of lines of communication could be made extremely hazardous, notwithstanding that ships may not at present be disposed in the best strategical positions to prevent it. British and American sea-power is growing, and the position will constantly improve. Insofar as Australia is concerned, we cannot, except for lesser craft, make any contributionto an improvement of our naval defence.

In regard to land defence, we have authorized a large-scale mobilization of the army. It is telling nothing to the enemy to say that our peace organization consists of five infantry and two cavalry divisions. With the number of Australian Imperial Force troops in Australia, the increase of ancillary units and the Volunteer Defence Corps, our potential field army organization has been greatly expanded beyond the peace organization.

We have commitments to the Australian Imperial Force overseas, and the present position in regard to reinforcements in the Middle East and Malaya is quite satisfactory.

The Government recognizes no limit to the expansion of the Air Force except our capacity to train men and provide machines for them to fly. We have certain squadrons on service overseas, and are at present in consultation with the Government of the United Kingdom on the strategical disposition of the Empire's Air Forces. We are in touch with the Governments of the Netherlands East Indies and the United States of America on the same subject. Australia has commitments under the Empire Air Scheme which we hope to be able to continue, but the position will be kept constantly under review. I shall refer later to the subject of aircraft.

In regard to equipment and munitions, a vast programme aiming at the highest possible degree of self-sufficiencyhas been in hand for some time. Last week, the War Cabinet directed the services to confer with the Munitions Department with a view to achieving an all-round speeding up. There are, of course, as in all programmes, some objectives which would take longer to achieve than others, and if these are not likely to be realized within a reasonable period, and make a contribution to the immediate needs of Australian defence, it is better not to disperse our resources on them for the time being.

A revision of programmes is. being prepared by all departments with a view to indicating the items to be accelerated, varied, added to, or deferred. Many decisions regarding acceleration and addition have already been taken. The Government has laid down the following general conditions to govern the programmes for material supplies : -

(i)   They must be in agreement with the Government's policy;

(ii)   They must make the greatest immediate contribution to Australian defence; (iii)Co-ordination must exist between the proposals of the Services, and they must be of a corresponding degree of priority;

(iv)   The expansion and improvement in organization should be actually realized as early as possible, by delivery from overseas or by local manufacture.

The Government believes that the situation relating to aircraft production requires bold and ruthless action to strengthen our air defence to the greatest degree possible. We have seen the paramount importance of air power in the Norwegian and Greek campaigns, in the Mediterranean, and recently by Japanese action against American and British capital ships. Our own bitter experiences have been offset by such actions as those against the Italian fleet at Taranto, and the Bismarck. The air force is an instrument of vital importance to the defence of Australia in the prevention of aggression by sea or air attack.

The Government has decided to rank the production of aircraft as a matter of the first degree of priority. If there be production resources which are being used for lesser needs, or which can be better employed, and they are required for aircraft production, any additional powers necessary to divert them will be taken. We intend to expand aircraft production to the maximum that the nation can attain. The administrative machinery for the direction of the aircraft industry to meet this vital situation is being reviewed by the Government.

In order to achieve defence requirements, the Government will act ruthlessly. Regarding man-power, there are, first, certain absolute requirements for the home defence forces including the defence of adjacent islands, the maximum number of men varying according to the degree of the threat of invasion, which is mainly dependent on. the deterrent effect of American and British naval strength in the' Pacific Ocean and our own capacity to resist. Secondly, there are certain requirements for the maintenance of the Australian Imperial Force overseas, for the continuation of Australia's part in the Empire Air Training Scheme, and for the provision of ground personnel for infiltrated Royal Australian Air Force squadrons under the latter scheme.

The governing considerations are - The demands of the Army and Air Force for home defence, and the capacity to convoy forces safely overseas. In addition to the absolute numbers required for the foregoing, there are also the classes in which these numbers are needed, insofar as they have a relation to the list of reserved occupations, and the requirements of munitions production, and other essential industries and services. The manpower position can be supplemented to the extent to which it is possible to employ women in the services for the relief of men, and to make good the shortage of men in industry,as well as meeting the need in industry for those classes of labour which can best be performed by women.

The requirements of the defence forces both in respect of numbers and categories are known quantities from their establishments. The requirements of industry for war production and essential civil requirements are not so readily assessable.

The logical essential to an exact understanding of the man-power position is the determination by the Department of War Organization of Industry of the man-power requirements for war production and essential civil requirements, having regard to the classified manpower demands of the services and the steps necessary for the diversion of manpower from non-essential to essential purposes.

The latter will be achieved by restriction of production and consumption, and by administrative measures through the agency of the Man-power Priorities Board in regard to the maintenance of a register of protected establishments, the classification of non-protected establishments into essential and non-essential industries, and the review of the list of reserved occupations to maintain protected and essential industries at the desired man-power level.

The increasing claims which the prosecution of the war is making on us call for a policy which will secure the greatest possible economy of our resources, in order that they may be devoted as fully as possible to the war effort and not dissipated on the fulfilment of unessential requirements. Our policy must be to limit civil consumption to the essential minimum.

Regarding the development of productive capacity, the Departments of Munitions and Aircraft Production have been directed to indicate -

(1)   The objectives of productive capacity at which they are aiming in their programmes;

(2)   the stage of the programme now reached ; and

(3)   the measures recommended in respect of the following in order to complete the productive capacity in (1) as soon as possible : - Man-power, material, machinery and equipment.

Similar directions have been given in respect of production output to meet the target figures laid down by the services.

Except in cases where the remedial action is within the capacity of the Department of Munitions or the Department of Aircraft Production, the production executive will submit its recommendations for giving effect to the measures which it considers should bo undertaken, and will simultaneously indicate the economic aspects of any of the proposals it may recommend, together with any further proposals which should be considered by the War Cabinet in respect of them. Simultaneously with the report of the production executive, the Financial and Economic Committee is to submit a. report on the economic effects of the production executive's recommendations, particularly in respect of the national income and the proportion that would be diverted to the war effort by the recommendations made.

The whole of the machinery of the higher direction of the war is being examinedso as to provide for that speed iness of decision, directness of action and expedition which are essential to a fully effective war effort. The Government acknowledges the loyal and devoted service that it has received from officers engaged on the war effort; but should any changes be indicated to be necessary, Cabinet will not hesitate to make them. As all honorable members will agree, the public good must override individual interests.

The steps which the Government has taken during the last ten days have greatly altered the budgetary position. As a consequence, the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) will later introduce proposals which will so increase revenue that the enlarged expenditure already incurred and in prospect may be brought within manageable limits. The proposals relate to direct taxation, and will be explained by the Treasurer before the conclusion of this sitting. Three things, I think, transcend all others in importance. First, wo have to acknowledge that the most effective way in which to overcome the enemy is by joint action with our Allies and associated endeavour, using the resources of each in such a manner as to achieve the greatest and strongest possible effort. That, in my opinion, is indispensable not only to final victory, but most certainly to earlier victory. Therefore, our representatives abroad are being constantly informed of the views of the Australian Government. The Government intends that Staff consultations now proceeding at Singapore should, if the requisite mutual arrangements can be made, be developed to a higher plane so that there can be on the part of the countries engaged in the Pacific, a maximum degree of collaboration and of concert. In this respect, the recent visit of Mr. Duff Cooper has enabled the Commonwealth Government and, I think I may say, the leaders of the opposition parties, to know the extent to which it is practicable to have direct contact with the conduct of the war in the Pacific.

The next thing I have to say is that, whilst there are some things which Australia will need to get from our allies, because of our incapacity to provide them for ourselves, it is none the less true that the greatest measure of contribution to the strength of Australia to resist and to give the best that we can give to those who are with us in this struggle must come from our own efforts and by the maximum degree of self-reliance. Apart from the interest we have in the com mon struggle, we have also at stake the integrity of our own soil and the safety of our own people. The protection of the civil population has been under review. The State Premiers will assemble in Canberra on Friday to confer with Commonwealth Ministers, but, pending their arrival, Cabinet has directed the Minister for Home Security (Mr. Lazzarini) to delegate to each Premier, as his representative, a wide measure of responsibility and function. Last night the requisite financial provision was made so that a great part of the necessary work that has to be done can be immediately set going. In Australia, there is of course, the political difficulty of a number of Governments. I am confident that constitutional limitations, or what normally might be hindrances to the maximum use of the machinery of government in Australia as we know it, not only politically, but also administratively, which is tremendously important, will be set aside. What has to be done will be done as the result of common-sense agreement and readiness to make requisite decisions. The Governments of the States and the Government of the Commonwealth together share the task of transforming this nation from peace activity to war organization. Whatever services, including transport, equipment and the like, which have to do with the service of the people or the protection of the people, are controlled by the States, their machinery will be used to the very maximum. Preparations will be made so that it will f unction when the necessity arises. Nothing will be left undone merely because seven governments are associated with the problem. Basically, the conduct of the war, insofar as organization of men for the naval, military and air forces, and the production of equipment, which those fighting forces need, are concerned, is, at any rate, the major responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. The greatest number of men that we can spare for the actual fighting is the number that we should spare, and the greatest number of people, men and women, that can be used to provide for the equipment of the services, without which they will be handicapped, is the minimum number that we should setto. work producing. This community of Australia can produce food in abundance. This is a country where climatic conditions enable men and women to live without having to go hungry even if they do not work as hard as they do in other parts of the world. Our mode of life, our conditions, our seasons, all that go to make up the natural conditions of living contribute to make us better equipped for the purposes of war than are the peoples of many other countries. The number of men and women available for work and service in Australia may not be so great as the number in other countries, but the qualitative capacity of our population will compensate in large measure for the shortage of our numbers, if only the people are allocated the appropriate tasks. I, like each of you, have seen this country at work, engaged in pleasure, and experiencing adversity; I have seen it face good times and evil times, but I have never known a time in which the inherent quality of Australia has to be used so unstintedly as at this hour. I know not what the fortunes of Australia will be in the weeks, months and years that lie ahead, but I am confident that the political machinery and administrative services, the fighting forces and the labouring classes of this country to-day stand united in order that not one of us may, through any act of commission or omission, help those who seek to destroy the nation.

The third thing which I would impress upon honorable members is that in more than 150 years no enemy has set foot in this country. In the months ahead that tradition will remain with us. Never shall an enemy set foot upon the soil of this country without having at once arrayed against it the whole of the manhood of this nation in such strength and quality as to show our determination that this country shall remain for ever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race. Our laws have proclaimed the principle of a White Australia. We did not intend that to be and it never was an affront to other races. Itwas devised for economic and sound humane reasons. It was not challenged for 40 years. We. intend to. maintain that principle, because we know it to be desirable.. If we were to depart from it we should do so only as the result of the free consent, not because the principle was sought to be overthrown by armed aggression.







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