Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- The hour is very late for comment upon such an important matter as the budget. Becauseit is late, I submit, with respect, that it is appropriate that a protest should be made against the procedure adopted by the Chair of making a roster of speakers. I have been here all the time, and I have seen honorable members, who were not present yesterday, get the call before me. My protest is not against the persons, but against the principle. I suggest that no list be kept, so that honorable members will be induced to remain in the chamber and work be thus expedited.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse.)The honorable member's statement is incorrect. The order of speakers has been strictly observed.

Mr WHITE - I cannot discuss the matter further with you now, sir, but later I shall submit to you facts which will support my statement.

The debate on the budget provides an opportunity either for criticizing or praising the Government. For my part, I shall criticize or praise as I consider the occasion warrants, but I hope that my criticism will be helpful. I think that members of all parties in this House were pleased to hear the statement that the Government proposes to give serious consideration to the rectification of constitutional disabilities. All of us applauded the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), who revived the subject in a very eloquent speech. However, the subject is not new. It was discussed at a Premiers Conference in 1933, and again in the following year a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers was held to discuss constitutional matters. Many recommendations were made. The other day, honorable members were treated to an eloquent discourse by the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) who, some time ago, as a State representative, was equally eloquent on the other side. In any case, it is good to know that the matter will receive consideration, even though it be tardy. Reform is due in regard to such matters as company law, aviation, trade and commerce, the jurisdiction of the High Court, censorship of films, and control of wireless and fisheries. In 1929, a royal commission on the Constitution presented majority and minority reports, and there were many recommendations which might have been considered before now.

I suggest that the proper way to deal with this matter is not to hold a special session of Parliament at which there will be longer and brighter speeches. Eather should we have action instead of words. I. have always thought that a convention should be held of the pre-federal type, attended by the State Attorneys-General, the Federal Attorney-General, and by such veteran constitutional authorities as Sir Isaac Isaacs and Sir Robert Garran. In that way we might be able to obtain a report and recommendations in quick time on which to base a referendum. The people are tired of the dodging of responsibility by the various governments; of the State governments saying that a particular matter is a responsibility of the Commonwealth, and of the Commonwealth Government saying that the responsibility belongs to the States. The people are sick of the overlapping of the governmental functions, and of the extra cost involved, when they know that this cost can be reduced to reasonable proportions. A referendum should be held which would, we hope, have the effect of bringing the sovereign powers of the States within due proportions,, and fix the representations of the States at, say, two members for each federal seat. I believe that if a proposal of that kind were put to the people, they would accept it. I hope that there will be no further delay in this regard. I do not lay the blame on this Government in particular. Many governments have hesitated to take action on this- matter, which has now assumed greater importance than ever.

In regard to defence, however, the Government possesses full power, but, because of its indecision, and its yielding to expedients, it has lost prestige and earned much criticism. A month ago we expected to be involved in war.

Mr Brennan - I did not.

Mr WHITE - I know that the honorable member thinks that we have none but imaginary foes. That has been an obsession of his for years, but the average Australian citizen believes, just as the citizens of Austria, 'Czechoslovakia, Abyssinia ' and China know, that there arc real and potential foes in the world. The development of aviation, and the return to power politics of certain countries that have made greater gains in recent months than they could hope to win by war, have made it obvious that trouble might come our way at any time. Britain and Australia may be involved in a struggle involving life or death to the individual nations and the Empire. A month ago the Government and the people would have gone to any length to avert the danger .that threatened. They would have made any sacrifice, but now that the crisis seems to have passed the attitude of the Government appears to be that we can wait for another crisis before doing anything. It has become lethargic again. Certainly the Government has taken some action, and it is spending large sums of money. I do not blame the new Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) for any of the Government's sins of omission ob commission. His work is all before him, and I am sure that he will give a good account of himself. It has yet to be shown, however, that tha Government is sincere in its expressed desire to provide adequate defences for Australia.

Have we a full realization of where we stand in this matter? Do we realize our responsibilities, holding as we do a country of 3,000,000 square miles with a population of barely 7,000,000 people? Do we believe that we could maintain the White Australia policy if it were challenged? Do we believe that we shall be able to retain and improve our living standards, merely because all reasonable people believe that living standards should be improved? How do we propose to absorb our unemployed, and how do we propose even to hold this country if our manhood" remains untrained? Australia would be a precious prize to any country that took the risk of trying to seize it. If there were another world war we might have different friends in the line-up of nations. There is a tremendous responsibility on the Government and on the people to provide for the security of the country, and, if we fail, we shall deserve the everlasting condemnation of posterity. The responsibility is ours to-day, and- we must act. We know that mon-ey is being poured out like water. Through the Customs Department alone approximately £44,000,000, or two-thirds of our revenue, is found annually for the maintenance of social services, &c. It is proposed to expend £15,000,000 this year on defence. I would not grudge this, even if it were twice as much, provided it were being expended in such a way as to produce the best results. But what of the Army? We have a paper army of 35,000 men. I call it a paper army because it is known that only 60 per cent. of those on the strength attend camp for training. Those with any experience know that afternoon and evening parades are of infinitely less value than the continuous training which men receive in camp. The Government has embarked on a campaign to raise the militia to a strength of 70,000. We all wish it luck.

Mr Pollard - Let the honorable member speak for himself.

Mr Rosevear - No doubt a lot of people will fight for their dole tickets.

Mr WHITE - The majority of the men of this country will fight for their homes and their families. We may get volunteers when the bands are playing, but the difficulty will be to hold them and to get them into camp. That is the point that I make. If only 60 per cent. of the 35,000 troops now attend camp, it seems probable that only 60 per cent., or 42,000, of the 70,000 troops, if they can be obtained, will attend the camp. Does any one claim that that would be an adequate army for the defence of Australia's huge area and enormous coastline? The Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr.Chamberlain, a man of peace, said -

We must maintain the strength of our forces at a level commensurate with our responsibilities, and be prepared to take our part in our country's protection. "At a level commensurate with our responsibilities ! " Well, Great Britain, with its immense population and small territory, may be able to continue with its present system, but in Australia, with its immense territory and sparse population, it is folly to expect to continue the system of voluntary enlistment and at the same time have an adequate defence force. I know that some honorable members believe that what I advocate savours of conscription, of some form of repugnant militarism, but it is nothing of the sort. Anybody who has been associated with universal training, either in the ranks or as the holder of a commission, knows that it is a most democratic system. It is based, not on the German, Russian or French systems, but on the Swiss model. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) asked why the rich did not do something for defence. In universal service, the rich and poor alike give service.

Mr Ward - The rich buy themselves out.

Mr WHITE - As a former area officer, I know that there are no exemptions, except on account of sickness or for persons who live at such distances from the training areas that they cannot conveniently attend training.

Mr Ward - Many will buy themselves out if war comes.

Mr WHITE - I was not here during the war, so I cannot say. In compulsory training - I should call it not compulsory training, but national service-

Mr Pollard - It is equally bad, whatever the honorable gentleman calls it.

Mr WHITE - The honorable member for Ballarat, who is himself a returned soldier, knows that in Victoria the returned soldiers passed a resolution in favour of universal training.

Mr Baker - The honorable member for Ballarat is one who did not.

Mr WHITE - Those who believe in the parliamentary system of government believe in majority rule, and, whilst honorable members are entitled to their own particular views, the majority of the returned soldiers do believe in universal training.

Mr Pollard - I challenge that statement.

Mr WHITE - The honorable gentleman should read the August issue of Mufti, which contains a report of the annual conference of the Victorian branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, at which a resolution urging the restoration of universal training was carried.

Mr Pollard - Only a small percentage of the returned soldiers belong to that organization.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).Order! The honorable member for Ballarat must cease to interject.

Mr WHITE - A number do not belong, but, at the same time, the organization is representative of the returned men. Furthermore, similar resolutions were carried by every other State branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, and confirmed at the federal conference of the organization in Perth.

Mr Pollard - There are very many returned soldiers, who are out of work and cannot afford to pay the subscription fees, which would entitle them to become members of the league.

Suggest corrections