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Thursday, 25 September 1941

Senator FOLL (Queensland) (Minister for Information) . - In view of the announcement in the -other branch of the legislature that a royal commission i,s to be appointed to inquire into the leakage of secret information and the other matters referred to in the statement made in the Senate yesterday by its Leader (Senator McLeay), I shall not speak at great length. I understand that the Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) has acceded to the request of the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Curtin) that the Leaders of the Government and Opposition parties in that House will confer in relation to the terms of reference to the royal commission. Now that the matter is to bo investigated by a royal commission, it should be left to that body to sift the evidence thoroughly, and then to report back to Parliament. It is not my intention, or desire, either to prejudge the case or to traverse the ground which has already been thoroughly covered by speakers on both sides of the other chamber. The Leader of the Opposition in this chamber (Senator Collings) said that the whole subject under discussion was distasteful to him, but, I may be pardoned for saying that he appeared to relish the opportunity to indulge in an oratorial outburst against his erstwhile colleague, the Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes), who is now his political antagonist. It is not right that the Attorney-General should be called upon to bear the whole of the responsibility for what has taken place.

The Leader of the Opposition has quoted from the statement of the Prime Minister, in which he explained how the Australian Democratic Front came into existence. It was pointed out that on the 5th January last, the War Cabinet decided that counter-propaganda was necessary in order to destroy the effect of subversive propaganda. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that the resolution of the conference referred to by the Prime Minister might have been worded in the interests of the Government, but the fact is that the Government took no part whatsoever in that conference. I remember well that not only the War Cabinet, but also the advisers to Service Ministers, were insistent on the need for propaganda to counteract subversive activities throughout the country. If honorable senators will take their minds back to the.. time when that conference was held, they will recall that subversive elements in the community were causing a good deal of concern, not only to the Government, but also to the Opposition. Without any desire to make party political capital out of the situation, I remind the Senate that, at that time, the Labour party was temporarily divided because of the existence of subversive elements in the community. It will be remembered that Senators Amour and Armstrong left the Labour party for a time, and that in the other chamber, Mr. Beasley and five other members did the same. They found it necessary to form another party in order to make clear that they were not tainted with communism. I call to mind the announcement by Senator Amour that he had been appointed Leader of the Labour party, Non-communist, in the Senate. I do not say that the existence of subversive tendencies among members of the parliamentary Labour party was obvious, but I do say that certain members of that party left it because of the existence of subversive elements in the community, and because action by that party to prevent their activities was not sufficiently strong. The fact remains that they left their comrades as a protest. If the Labour party, which was in opposition, found itself in such a difficult position because of these subversive tendencies that men had to leave the party, it is only reasonable to assume that the Government took steps to counteract subversive activities in the community. No one knows better than does my colleague, the Minister for Munitions (Senator McBride), that at that time subversive elements were far more active in industries associated with the country's war effort than in other industries, because in that way the greatest damage could be done. We know that key industries such as the iron and steel industry and the coal industry, upon which the war production of this country depends to such a vital degree, were selected for this form of subversive activity by Communists, or, if my friend, the Leader of the Opposition prefers the term "nearCommunists ". The honorable senator himself knows that even in his own State the activities of Communists or near-Communists have even found their way into the ranks of the State Labour party. So great has been the inroads of Communist propaganda in the State Labour party that two of his colleagues have had to be suspended for taking partin Communist activities. Is it not natural to assume that if that is going on in the ranks of the Labour party, it is likewise going on in the industrial organizations, upon which this country is so dependent is this critical time? The Government was so concerned about these antiAustralian activities that it called into consultation those who would best be able to advise it as to the steps that should be taken to counteract them. My friend, the Leader of the Opposition, asks why the (fenders were not gaoled? What happened when two men who definitely set themselves out to injure the war industries of this country were gaoled? They immediately resorted to the medium of hunger-striking in order to focus the attention of the people on their plight. Pleas were sent out to high Heaven on their behalf. Did any honorable senator opposite say that those who went out on strike even for 24 hours were doing a foolish thing because they were holding up the production of essential war materials and equipment for our soldiers ab road? Was any plea made by honorable senators opposite that the strikers should go back to work? Was any appeal made by them to the textile workers when they went out on strike and held up the supply of equipment and uniforms for the men overseas? Was any appeal made by any honorable senator opposite when the construction of the munition factory at Ballarat was held up at a time when the Department of the Interior was urged by the Department of Munitions to complete the job as quickly as possible? In that instance, the men walked off the job in spite of the fact that every form of industrial machinery was made available to them in order that their claims might be heard promptly by the court. Did any honorable senator opposite make an appeal to the men who walked off the Heidelberg Hospital job, the completion of which was so urgently needed so that the wounded who were returning from overseas could be properly cared for? The construction of the Heidelberg Hospital was held up for weeks, in spite of the fact that award rates of pay and conditions were observed, and every facility was given to the men to ensure that they got a fair deal. Special conciliation commissioners were appointed by the Government in order that the hearing of the claims of all workmen would be expedited.

SenatorCollings. - Did the Australian Democratic Front do anything to prevent the strike?

Senator FOLL - I shall come to that directly. Was any, appeal made by any honorable senator opposite when the work of the brass foundry was held up in spite of the fact that it was commonly known that brass was one of the bottle-necks in the production of munitions? What will our soldiers overseas think of what is occurring? The War Cabinet was naturally very concerned at these constant interruptions. The Advisory War Council was so much concerned that, finally, a joint appeal was issued by Mr. Curtin and Mr. Fadden urging men not to strike, not to be led away by subversive activities, but to stay on the job. However, despite that appeal, strikes continued to slow down our war production. The Government, then decided to call a conference of the people who could best advise it how to counteract the pernicious influence of those engaged in subversive activities.

Senator Collings - The Government did not say one word to that conference about the Australian Democratic Front.

Senator FOLL - Nobody could have said anything about it because at that stage it did not exist. The conference consisted of representatives of the intelligence branches of the Navy, Army and Air Force, the Commonwealth Investigation Branch, the Police Commissioners of each State and the relevant censorship sections of the Department of Information. There could not possibly have been any political complexion in a body the members of which had such diversified interests. The Police Commissioners in the States are not branded with any particular political colour, and as far as the censorship people in my own department are concerned, I know nothing of their political affiliations. The intelligence officers of the three fighting services are quite independent of political control. The conference resolved that the proper way to deal with subversive activities was to set up a form of counterpropaganda against the preaching of those who advocated strikes and a "goslow " policy. The recommendations of the conference were given very careful consideration by the Government. It was thought at first that this work might very well be undertaken by the Department of Information, but, after consideration, it was realized that had propaganda been disseminated through the Department of Information it might have been regarded as having a political colouring. Personally, I have my own views as to whether or not this work should have been undertaken by the Department of Information. At any rate, it was decided that the propaganda should be handled by the AttorneyGeneral, who controlled the Commonwealth Investigation Branch. The duty devolved upon the Attorney-General to set up an organization to counter these anti-Australian activities. We know now that the right honorable gentleman formed the organization known as the Australian Democratic Front.

Senator Large - Why was not parliamentary sanction obtained?

Senator FOLL - Every shilling expended for this or any other purpose has first to be placed on the Estimates in the usual way. Does .the honorable senator think for a moment that it would be possible to subject every single item of expenditure to parliamentary approval? What do honorable senators suppose would have happened had the Government approached the Parliament, and said, " We propose to set up a body to be known as the Australian Democratic Front. We propose to appoint Mr. Christie as president and Mr. Barnes as secretary. The expenses of the organization are to be met by the Government. It is to be used for the purpose of disseminating counter-propaganda." ?

Senator Collings - The Government would never have got parliamentary approval.

Senator FOLL - I agree; even if we had got it it would have been worthless. My own view is that the good work that this organization has been doing is now completely undone. I do not see thai any future good can come out of its activities in view of the discussion that has taken place in this chamber and in the House of Representatives. The Leader of the Opposition especially dealt with the position of the AttorneyGeneral and of Mr. Barnes, the secretary of the Australian Democratic Front. The honorable senator said that he knew Mr. Barnes, and the greatest, crime he could lay at his door was Ohe fact that he was once a Labour man, and that when the great test came in 1917, and Mr. Barnes had to decide whether to put his party first or his country first, Mr. Barnes went, with Mr. Hughes. We know that there were thousands more who believed as they did. It is because those thousands of people believed in Mr. Hughes and in what he and Mr. Barnes did that the Labour party has been in the wilderness of opposition in this Parliament since 1916, and is likely to remain in that position for many years to come. What were Mr. Barnes's activities in connexion with countering subversive propaganda? Even his bitterest enemies would concede that he is a very capable public speaker, and that he knows the psychology of those engaged in industry. Mr. Barnes visited some of the south coast areas, the northern districts and other areas where our great war industries are being carried on. He was not engaged in political discussions, but has endeavoured to make the workers see the danger of harbouring undesirable elements in the community. He did not go there for the purpose of eulogizing the Attorney-General.

Senator Collings - He distributed copies of the speeches of the right honorable gentleman.

Senator FOLL - The fact that the Attorney-General has made frequent appeals for unity is all to his credit. It is a pity that more of his speeches were not read and digested by many of those who are stirring up industrial unrest, and it is a pity that his advice was not taken more freely by those employed in industries which have suffered as the result of pernicious propaganda. Mr. Barnes did not accept office as secretary of the organization in order to make money out of it. I understand that he is paid at the same salary as he was receiving in private employment before be accepted the position.

Senator Ashley - Is he getting £500 a year ?

Senator FOLL - I do not know what his salary is. He may be paid £500 a year. If, as the result of his efforts to stamp out subversive activities there is a little less industrial unrest, less interference in some of our war industries, he is well worth that salary and a good deal more. The Australian Democratic Front was set up by the Government. The Attorney-General was appointed by his colleagues in the Cabinet to do this work, and he has done it in the way he thought best for the purpose of countering subversive propaganda in this country. Much discussion has taken place concerning the manner in which these disclosures were first made. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, a traitorous public servant approached the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives with copies of documents containing statements that may, or may not, have been true.. If such statements disclosed secrets taken from confidential Government cablegrams, this man thereby com mitted a felony which, particularly in time of war, is deserving of the most drastic punishment.

Senator Collings - The Government's Investigation Branch must have fallen down on its job when the Government employed him. The Labour party did not recommend him.

Senator FOLL - He spent the whole of his life in the Labour party, and he was an employee of the Labour party up to the time he joined the Commonwealth Public Service.

Senator Collings - A long while ago.

Senator FOLL - No.

Senator Collings - He has never been employed by the Labour party.

Senator FOLL - The honorable senator's colleagues from New South Wales know a great deal of the history of this man. However, regardless of his politics, his action was most dastardly. I regret to think that there ever was one, man in the Public Service that could do what he did. I commend the action of the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives in bringing this matter to the notice of the Government. Iu view of the fact that the Government has decided to appoint a royal commission to investigate this matter I shall say nothing at this stage as to whether money was paid to the president of the Miners Federation. However, money was set aside for a definite purpose, and if its expenditure has resulted in countering subversive activities in this country such expenditure has been warranted. I believe that honorable senators opposite realize just as much as I do that subversive activities are still being carried on in this country, and that such activities must be countered. Whether it is done in this way, or in any other way, I hope that such work will be continued successfully.

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