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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Sir HENRY GULLETT (Henty) . - I warmly associate myself with the congratulations extended to the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) on the constructive speech that he made in this chamber a week ago upon constitution alteration. The right honorable gentleman must indeed be gratified at the general acclaim with which his speech has been hailed. Rarely in the history of this Parliament has a speech been received with such unanimous approval and, indeed, with so much promise of being translated into action. At the same time, we should be careful at this stage to realize that sweeping alterations of the Constitution such as were contemplated by the right honorable gentleman, no matter how strong might be the unanimity among honorable members of this Parliament, must meet with controversy and opposition. I have been interested in the proposal of the Government that next year a special Constitution session of this Parliament should be held. I think that that is an excellent proposal. I venture to suggest, however, that it is desirable before such a session is held, to draft constitution alterations, a committee of the whole House should be set up by the Government to do the initial drafting. I think that the proposals that are put to the people should be representative of as much unanimity as is attainable, and that they should be the subject of as little criticism, opposition and division in Parliament as is possible, if they are to have their full influence on the people. Furthermore the submission of the proposals to the people should not follow too swiftly upon their passage through this House. In the past some referendum proposals have failed to meet with the approval of the people because of the brief period in which they have been before the electors. Some would, I believe, have met with approval had the electors had a longer time in which to study them. During a brief campaign of six or seven weeks the case of those who favour alterations is subjected to every kind of misrepresentation and exaggeration which cannot be answered convincingly in such a short period. Therefore, I trust that if the House agrees to certain proposed alterations of the Constitution, which may be of a farreaching character, the referendum will not be taken until the following year. That would enable those who subscribed to the proposed alterations to use their best endeavours to set up a great organization throughout the Commonwealth with district committees to engage in an. effective affirmative campaign.

I return again to the unfortunate decision of the Government to persevere with the present voluntary system of training. We must accept the view of the Government that Australia is in a dangerous position. In September last it suddenly rushed Australia's defence forces into a state of preparedness for war, and we are not yet out of danger. Europe to-day presents an extremely ugly appearance. International illfeeling is running as high to-day as it was two months ago. Trouble is possible at any time. I again protest most strongly against the perpetuation of the voluntary system of training. It is grossly unfair that at a time of national danger the defence of this country should be left to those who are prepared to volunteer, and that young men who are unwilling to offer for voluntary service are allowed to carry on their work and recreation without interference. The obligation should be upon all young men. I believe that that is the opinion of a majority of honorable members supporting the Government, including a substantial number of Cabinet Ministers. We are therefore justified in concluding that the persistence with the voluntary system is due to a decision of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), who is not true to himself in the attitude which he has adopted. When I speak of compulsory military training, I do not mean the universal training of all our young manhood, which would extend very little further than the voluntary system that is now being persisted in. We should approach this subject in a spirit of realism tinged with imagination. We should conjure up in our minds what would happen if a strong raiding force secured a footing at some vital point on the Australian coast. Let us visualize what such a conflict would be between a hostile raiding party and Australian troops trained under the voluntary system. The raiding party would consist of highly-trained men, many of whom would be veterans, who would be opposed by unfortunate volunteers who had attended drills for perhaps ten days in each year. Trainees do not attend all drills. Moreover, the physical standard of the trainees in recent years has been lowered. If war came, probably 250,000 young men would be called up to reinforce the militia. I do not like to think what would actually happen in such circumstances, but it would be scarcely less than murder. It would be outrageous to place young men in such a disastrous position. The subsequent sacrifice is too awful to contemplate. If a raiding force took possession of such a centre as Newcastle, Sydney or Melbourne and was able to dig in and to keep its sea communications open, the wastage of life in getting rid of it would be terrific. Notwithstanding this, a minority of Ministers in a divided Cabinet is acting against the advice of its experts. I am discussing this subject, not from the point of view of winning a war on Australian soil, but from that of making this country's defences so strong that an enemy would not be able even to make a successful raid upon it. In the first place, the Government should restore the area officers and register and classify our young manhood. Having done so, it should take by ballot, say, 15,000 to 20,000 young men and put them in training for a period of ' three or four months. When they had completed their training, they could be placed in reserve and another similar number could be brought in. I throw out the suggestion because I think it is worthy of consideration. The adoption of such a policy would mean that there would be from 15,000 to 20,000 in training and, within two years, from 60,000 to 80,000 trained men would be available. There would then not be the fear of invasion which hangs over this country and which is likely to hang over it so long as we adhere to the present unsatisfactory system. I submit this proposal and make a special appeal to honorable members opposite to give it their careful consideration. Every large force must consist in the main of workers. At present, we invite them to enlist under the voluntary system, but scarcely any training is provided. That would still be the position if the strength of the militia were doubled.

I now wish to refer to the tribunal sitting in Melbourne investigating the cause of the Kyeema tragedy. When that committee was appointed, I entered my protest in the strongest possible terms, and I repeat that protest to-day. I think it utterly unsatisfactory that the present committee should be entrusted with this inquiry into an accident which led to the loss of many Australian lives. I say frankly that the Government is completely mistaken if it thinks that the report of this inquiry will command any respect from the public. It will not. The purpose of the inquiry is not merely to ascertain whether or not the pilot erred or whether there was anything wrong with the machine ; it goes far deeper than that; its purpose is to ascertain whether the Civil Aviation Board itself was, by negligence, responsible for the disaster, and, following through, whether the Defence Department, the Minister for Defence at that time, and the Cabinet as a whole share any responsibility for it. I suppose that,_ since justice was first dispensed in Australia, there is no precedent for the extraordinary spectacle we had yesterday when Mr. Johnston, ControllerGeneral of Civil Aviation went into the witness box and gave evidence before a tribunal on which were sitting in judgment upon that evidence two of his subordinate officers. The whole thing is a travesty ofjustice. I cannot understand the national government of a country first of all ever having set up such a tribunal, nor can I understand it persisting in it for a day longer. We are all familiar with the very high traditional practice of judges of the High Court and of magistrates and justices of the peace, of instantly retiring from a case, if it occurs to them, or if any one hints, that they might be in any personal or material way interested in it. There is, I think, no greater tribute to the purity of our justice than that practice. But here we have had these officers in Melbourne challenged by counsel. Members of the Government examined the position and the tribunal goes on unchallenged. That, to me, is a mockery of justice. Because of a certain thickness of sensibility on the part of the Government, suspicion arises that there is someone to be shielded, something to be concealed.

Mr Mahoney - Does the honorable member think there is something "crook " about it?

Sir HENRY GULLETT - No ; but in my opinion, the Government is extraordinarily unwise and foolish to place itself in this position and to continue to remain in it. It is beyond all credence that interested parties, officers of the Civil Aviation Board, which is deeply and closely interested in this hearing, should be allowed to continue to be members of the committee of inquiry. I make the simple and. direct suggestion to the Government that the inquiry should have been entrusted to a justice of the High Court or of the Supreme Court. One member of the committee, however, Colonel E. F. Herring, K.C., would make an admirable single commissioner and would command the respect of all the Australian people. I suggest to the Government that, even at this belated hour, the committee should be reconstituted and that Colonel Herring be appointed a royal commissioner to inquire into the facts of this disaster. There would be no necessity for a rehearing of evidence and there would be no waste of time, because Colonel Herring has already heard all of the evidence.

Anothermatter which I wish to discuss briefly is the progress made by the Oil Research Committee.I am particularly interested in this matter because the decision of the Government to set aside £250,000 for oil research arose out of a submission which I made to Cabinet when I was a member of the Government. This was, in a sense, a gambling proposal, but a legitimate gamble in the national interest, to engage in a very active prosecution of the search for oil by the provision of a subsidy for those companies already engaged in oil research. I contemplated, as I think did every member of the Cabinet at that time, that the money would be expended as expeditiously as was economically possible. I find, however, that from the 28th May, 1936, to June, 1938, some £14,500 was expended on wages and travelling expenses, and only £18,400 on subsidies. In other words, all I achieved in bringing this matter before Cabinet, and all the Cabinet itself achieved in adopting the scheme which provided for the expenditure of a large amount of the taxpayers' money, has been to provide a cosy job for the members of the Oil Research Committee. That, to me, is totally unsatisfactory. I do not hold the present Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) responsible for the position. It had existed for some time before he took control of his department.

Mr Pollard - He would not stand for that.

Sir HENRY GULLETT -I know that his administration of his department is very exacting. I raise the matter merely to call his attention to it, and to express the strong hope that he will press on with a wise expenditure of the money. I might add that there has been a further expenditure of £50,000 on the purchase of two drilling plants, one of which is in action at the Roma field in Queensland, and the other in East Gippsland. I venture to say that if any one with the least familiarity with the prospects of oil discovery in Australia were asked where the two drilling machines should be located, in 99 cases out of 100 the reply would be that one should be put down at Roma and the other at East Gippsland. Whilst I do not wish to cast any reflection upon the personnel of the committee, I would very much like to see some new outside blood engaged in the search for oil in Australia. We have been at work for years, and so far have got nowhere> yet we still persist with the

Same experts whose services we have utilized all through.

Mr Hutchinson - The claim has been made by certain people that they can find oil.

Sir HENRY GULLETT - I have no technical knowledge of this subject; I merely endeavour to take a commonsense view of it. I would like, however, to express on behalf of a number of those enaged in oil research, who as far as I know, are completely reputable people - I do not know them personally - a protest at the almost interminable delays which have taken place in respect of matters which have cropped up between them and the Oil Research Committee. They also complain of the lack of courtesy on the part of the members of the committee. These arc serious charges which I would not express unless I thought they had some basis of fact behind them. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron), who is now in charge of the committee, will at least do- me the honour of listening to my remarks. I take it that the Minister in charge of the debate sometimes' does pay some attention, and sometimes even makes a note dr two', when honorable members take the trouble to prepare speeches and deliver them.

Mr Archie Cameron - I could repeat every statement which the honorable member has made.

Sir HENRY GULLETT - The PostmasterGeneral has paid no attention to what I have been saying.

Mr Archie Cameron - That is incorrect.

Sir HENRY GULLETT - Every time honorable members are foolish enough to trespass upon his time, he is engaged in reading a book.

Mr Archie Cameron - I could even repeat the sentences which the honorable member has used.

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