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Tuesday, 16 December 1941

Mr RANKIN (Bendigo) .- I believe, in common with the honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price), that we are to-day facing the greatest crisis in our history. I believe, also, that the population of Australia will support the King's Government to-day in anything that it is prepared to do for the defence of the nation. But I urge the Government not to stop half way, not to be afraid to do what it knows to be right. It is the responsibility of the Government to provide an armed force to defend this country, and it is the responsibility of the Government to decide where that force shall go. If by sending that force to New Guinea, Malaya, or any other place beyond our shores, we can keep the enemy out of this country, thus preserving those whom we love from the dreadful risks that the people of Great Britain and the Near East are experiencing, that will be an achievement of which this Government will have good reason to be proud. I have never been in favour of conscription for overseas service ; I say so openly and unashamedly, and I have very good reasons for doing so. But I do not consider that fighting in the defence of Singapore should be regarded as overseas service. Singapore is an outpost of Australia. One need only look at the map once, and see the chain of islands leading to the northern part of Australia, in order to realize how vulnerable we are to attack from that direction. The enemy can approach Australia from base to base, step by step, and the Japanese are apt to take very long steps, as they proved to the Americans recently at Pearl Harbour, and as they proved to us, also, in the region of Singapore. The day has come when, irrespective of what its views have been in the past, irrespective of what it may have done for political expediency, and irrespective of what may happen in the future, the Government should take upon its shoulders the responsibility of defending this country and keeping the enemy from our shores, if that be humanly possible. The Government is responsible for the armed forces.

Mr Conelan - What about equipment?

Mr RANKIN - The honorable member has done little to produce equipment. Until this Government came into power, he did not, to my knowledge, lift his voice once in order to encourage munition workers to stay at work during a strike by pointing out their duty as Australians to ensure that their colleagues fighting for Australia and the liberty which we enjoy should be supplied with equipment.

Mr Conelan - That is untrue.

Mr RANKIN - The honorable gentleman to my knowledge did not once do so.

Mr CONELAN (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - The honorable member must have been asleep.

Mr RANKIN - I am satisfied that the honorable gentleman was asleep for many years. I have heard his statements with regard to the defence of Australia; unfortunately, too many people were suffering from the same sleeping sickness as that which affected him. The Government is responsible for our armed forces.

A part of its responsibility is to ensure that the right men are in charge of those forces. It has been reported that certain men in command of our fighting services are to be removed from their posts. If the Government is satisfied that these men are inefficient it should relieve them of their commands, immediately. It is time for Australia to bring back its own men to teach us the latest lessons of war. It is time for us to get rid of men who are being paid almost twice as much as Australians of equal rank, and iu British currency, in order to direct our fighting services. I mention one of these men, the man in charge of our Air Force,, who said repeatedly that the Japanese had very few aeroplanes and in any case could not fly them properly. That is the sort of man who has been sent out to advise Australia about defence. "We have Australians of undoubted ability, men whose knowledge of aerial warfare stands second to none, who have fought in the air in two wars, and who have covered themselves- with glory in this war. Why should we bring to Australia to direct our air operations somebody who, possibly, was not wanted in Great Britain, and pay him an exorbitant salary, while he tells us things that are not true? We cannot deny the fact that the Japanese, whether we like it or not, have proved themselves to be gallant and efficient airmen. The diebards may say, " Well, after all,, they are only Japanese and we are British officers ", but that will not kill our enemies, or save battleships from destruction.

The Australian Imperial Force is entitled to the first call on our supplies of equipment. It is fighting for us to-day, as it has been fighting now for nearly two years. Those men must be given priority, but,, after they have been well supplied, we must retain the equipment produced in Australia until such time as we are efficiently armed.

Mr Conelan - That has not been done.

Mr RANKIN - It can be done: The honorable member is a supporter of the present Government and he should help to. ensure that it is done. We must arm our own people,, because there is a definite risk that we shall have to fight the- enemy on our own soil. Whether we shall suffer a major raid or an invasion,, it is absolutely certain that, our seaborne commerce and our coastal towns will be attacked..

Up to the present time we have had two separate military forces. There should be but one force of Australian troops. The Australian Imperial Force and the Militia Forces should be united. Their members should receive the same rates of pay and should serve under the same conditions. I am not referring to men who are called up for a three-months course of training, but to the men who are called up for full-time service within Australia, many of whom have had to sacrifice their business interests and their livelihood in doing so, and who may be fighting the enemy before many members of the Australian Imperial Force are in action. There is a definite possibility that the Militia regiments stationed at Darwin may meet the enemy before some members of the Australian Imperial Force. It is time that these men were put on an equal footing with members of the Australian Imperial Force and were placed under the same command. The Government has appointed a commander-in-chief of home defence. It would be farcical to give that man a staff of about two men. The greatest military genius in the world could not conduct the operations of an army efficiently without a proper staff selected and trained by himself. He must see his own troops, and know the standard of their training: It is time that the Government took action, irrespective of any jealousy or self-interest that may exist in the forces, so' that whoever is appointed as commander-in-chief shall have an adequate staff, full command of his troops, and full control of their training.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Mr RANKIN - The responsibility rests on the 'Government, not only to raise the necessary armed forces, but also to see that their work is properly coordinated. All honorable members will agree, I think, as to the necessity for complete co-ordination of the operations of the air, land and naval: forces. During the last war, those forces co-operated in an ideal manner, but the custom appears to have arisen for them to operate as separate forces. This practice has been carried out to such a degree that no military officer can legally give an order to a member of the Air Force. . A senior military officer -was not allowed to take the salute at a parade at Ballarat recently, when members of his own forces passed him, but he was required to step down and allow an Air Force officer, much junior in rank to himself, to take the salute. Ti may be an unpopular thing to say, but, in my opinion, the Air Force is being spoilt. If I had my own. way, I should burn to-morrow all the .blue uniforms in Australia, and place all members of our fighting services in khaki, telling them that they are all good members of the Australian Imperial Force or of the Militia and that none Ls entitled to any special privilege. When beds were requisitioned for the Casualty Clearing Station in my division, we could not obtain them-, hut members of the ground staff of . the Air Force, whose rank is equal to that of privates in on infantry battalion, were sleeping in beds -with sheets and pillows, and our men were sleeping on the ground. Such distinctions should not be made. They have produced a complex which has caused members of the Air Force to believe that they are the sole arbiters in deciding what they should do. The most successful army the world has produced in the last century is that of Germany. Each division in the German Army has its own air force, and -the brigade commanders have their own section of the Air Force. We shall not have complete co-operation between the various arms of the services until a system similar to that in operation in the German Army is adopted in connexion with Australia's armed forces.

When the British troops were retreating to Dunkirk, the Air Force was bombing places in the Buhr, hundreds of miles away. The lives of many of our fine soldiers who took part in the retreat to Dunkirk might have been saved if the Air Force had been bombing the tanks that were attacking them. The British Air Force was in occupation in Crete for eight months, yet it made no attempt to establish aerodromes and build up a big air force there. It was said that it was impossible to give air support to the members of our forces who were struggling back to the coast down the Grecian peninsula, but, within eleven days of the time our men retreated to Crete, the German Air Force bom.bed them practically out of that island. I believe that British soldiers had similar experiences in Libya. During recent days, we have lost two great battleships because they did not have any air support. I do not know what the reason was, nor can I say who was at fault, but those vessels should have had air support, or should not have taken the risk they did. The responsibility rests upon the Government to see that the work of our armed forces is .co-ordinated.

Enlistment for the Australian Imperial Force has been badly handled, not only by the present Government but also by previous governments. There was a wave of enthusiasm when Japan entered the war, and it is inconceivable to me that the suggestion should have been made that members of the Militia should not be permitted to join the Australian Imperial Force. Whoever was responsible for that decision made a grave mistake, and one which Australia will possibly have reason to regret.

Mr Conelan - The honorable member does not know who .gave that order.

Mr RANKIN - If I were Minister for the Army, I should soon find out from whom it came. I believe that the Government is doing the right thing in mobilizing men. Only a partial mobilization is taking place, and I believe that the mobilization should be complete. We should call up such men as are needed not only for the armed forces, but also for the administrative staffs, which should be brought to full strength. The various workshops should have a full personnel because it is impossible for an army to function properly without fully equipped workshops to support it. The Government should also take over all of the big factories which are being used at present almost wholly for the production of munitions. At a time of crisis, such as that through which we are now passing, the interests of individuals and companies should not be considered. We should consider only the interests of this great country, and of the gallant men who are fighting for us. If the government of the day had the courage to do that, it would have 99 per cent, of the people of Australia behind it. Honorable members opposite have complained that Australia is not producing sufficient munitions, and that the manufacturers are not being supplied with the necessary metals and other requisite materials. They wailed about this when they were in opposition, but, within three weeks of taking over the reins of government, they declared that the munition factories of Australia were putting forward a remarkable effort. They even took credit for the large production of munitions in this country, although the work had been in progress for over two- years. I believe that the Government is trying to do the right thing, and, although I shall support it while it continues to do its best, it should not take credit to itself for the whole of our war production, and for the fact that Australia has armed forces, even though they may not be fully equipped, which I am sure would put up an heroic fight in the defence of this country if an enemy should come to these shores.

Honorable members opposite are inclined to say that members of the forces are not doing the right jobs. I point out that the conditions under which service chiefs and senior departmental officers work are almost impossible. The position is that when one of the service chiefs wants to do something which he knows to be essential to the well-being of the armed forces, he finds that his plans are defeated by treasury officials and are held up indefinitely. The business boards are responsible to-day for the fact that we have not a sufficient supply of uniforms.

Mr Conelan - "Who appointed those boards?

Mr RANKIN - The previous Government appointed some of them, but the present Government is still appointing similar boards, and must take a large share of the blame. A ruling was given that it was unnecessary for the forces to have refrigerators south of the tropics. I objected to that decision, and surprise was expressed at my objection, because it was said that when I was serving in Palestine in the last war no refrigerators were provided. Apparently it was forgotten that in Palestine, in the last war, the troops lived largely on biscuits and tinned meat, and often did not taste fresh bread or fresh meat foi- long periods. I claim that the Government should make its own decisions, and get rid of half of the business boards.

We have had experience in connexion with our own forces of the treatment to which military men are subjected, as the result of reports by political commissars who have been sent out by the British War Council as spies. One of these was named Lyttleton. I believe that General Wavell is a great soldier, but he was given a job which it was beyond the power of any man to do with an insufficient number of troops, and the British authorities got rid of him. Sir Alan Cunningham did a great job in Abyssinia. He also went to Libya, and from what I can hear and read about him, his tactics were brilliant; but, despite the fact that last April it was known that the German tanks were armed with 6-pounder guns and our tanks dared not go out into the open country without the risk of being destroyed, the British War Council sent Sir Alan Cunningham out with tanks armed with 2-pounder guns, with a range of only SOO yards, as compared with the range of 1,800 yards of the German 6-pounder guns. In my opinion, he was not defeated, but was merely held up, thanks to the magnificent courage of the New Zealanders and South Africans. The political commissar looked round for a scapegoat. I should have dealt with him in the way David dealt with Uriah the Hittite. I should have taken care that Lyttleton was placed in the forefront of the battle, in such a position that he would not have been able to make a report when the fight was over.

The Government has certain jobs to do to-day, and it cannot appoint boards or commissions to relieve it of its own responsibility. Its first duty is to reinforce the Australian Imperial Force. We may not accept a further responsibility in the Near East for the present; but if the Government does not reinforce the Australian Imperial Force it will be one of the blackest betrayals the world has ever witnessesd. It is the job of the Government to increase the production of munitions and to keep people in training irrespective of where they may be sent or of disabilities that they may suffer. We should have men available to fight in the regular forces wherever they are required. The most important job of the Government is to keep the fight out of Australia if it is humanly possible to do so. We do not wish to see our cities burning, our streets littered with dead, and our land soaked in the blood of those who are near and dear to us. We do not desire the people of our villages to suffer like the villagers of Russia. No sacrifice would be too great to achieve these ends. I do not believe that 1 per cent, of our people, apart from those who have given their sons and daughters and their near relatives to the fighting forces, have made any real sacrifice up to date. Some people may have put money into war loans and have made gifts to the Government, but that kind of thing does not involve real sacrifice. For the great hulk of us there has been no alteration of our way of living, and no lowering of our standards. The time will come, before this war is over, when we shall have to accept lower standards of living. We shall be called upon to sacrifice our luxuries if we want to keep our country free, and to preserve its liberties. It is the job of the Government to call for and demand the sacrifices that are necessary to victory. This job can be done only by the Government, and I trust that it will have the courage to declare that our outposts are at Singapore, Borneo, in the Timor, or anywhere else beyond Australia where we have a chance to fight the foe and prevent the invasion of our own shores. If the Government faces this responsibility with courage and determination and does the job it may well be described by future historians as the greatest Government Australia has ever known.

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