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Wednesday, 7 December 1938


Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- In dealing with the supplementary defence vote, which entails a very great increase of defence expenditure, the natu ral questions which honorable members will ask themselves and which the public will ask are, how. soon may we possibly expect danger, and just how do the Government's plans provide for that emergency ? If we are to expect the emergency to arise within a comparatively short space of time, the Government's efforts up to date are to be commended, but one might legitimately ask whether they go far enough, particularly in relation to the provision of the very necessary manpower to make this huge expenditure thoroughly effective. I was reading in the press only to-day that one of the South African Ministers who had visited all the European capitals within the last few weeks,Mr. Pirow, had also been in contact with Hitler in Berlin, and on his return to London expressed the opinion that, contrary to appeasement having been secured in Europe, the position was more critical than ever. That gentleman contemplated that we might have to face a crisis in the spring of next year when the German occupation of Sudetenland had been thoroughly settled.


Mr Casey - The honorable member refers to the European spring, of course.


Mr ANTHONY - Yes, that would be in May or June. According to that statement, which cannot be taken as authoritative but which is, nevertheless, the considered opinion of a responsible man after having visited the various European countries and seen the activities in them, within a period of six months we might again be called upon to face a crisis such as we went through at the end of last September. The thought in the minds of the public and of honorable members is whether the country will be in a relatively stronger position on the 30th June next than it was in September last. Most of us have heard since the crisis that serious weaknesses in our defence system were revealed. It would have been helpful if the Government had indicated what steps were being taken to rectify those weaknesses.

The Government should take a courageous stand in regard to defence. It has done so in regard to defence expenditure, having increased the total amount to be expended during the next three years by £20,000,000, but it has not exhibited the same determination regarding the means to be adopted in raising the necessary forces. There is only one way to d!o 'this, and that is to enlist all able-bodied men under some system of universal training, so that everybody shall contribute his share to the defence of the country.


Mr Brennan - The honorable member is advocating conscription.


Mr ANTHONY - I am asserting that every person has a duty to his country, and should render service according to his ability. I strongly disagree with the statement of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) that Great Britain would not go to war in defence of democracy. He said that Great Britain might embark on a war for reasons with which we were not in sympathy, and that we should not become involved when we have no real interest in the matter in dispute. The honorable member's attitude reminds me of that of the man who will not go out to fight a bushfire, though it be approaching his property, until it actually reaches his boundary. I warn him that irreparable damage might be done to Australia by an enemy who need not set foot on Australian soil; tens of thousands of lives would be lost, and no distinction would be made between workers and capitalists. If the warships of an enemy were to arrive off the coast of Australia, the gunners would not inquire .before directing their shells whether they were likely to strike the mansion of a capitalist or the cottage of a worker or a man on the dole. Every one in the community would share the ri:5k, and the life of the dole recipient is as valuable to him, and just as much worth saving, from his point of view, as that of the greatest capitalist in the land. Much has been made of the argument that the workers have no obligation to participate in the defence of the country because they do not possess anything to defend. One has only to go to places of amusement such as the beaches at St. Kilda and Bondi, or the race-courses at Flemington and Randwick, to realize that a very great number of Australians do enjoy a much higher standard of living that would be theirs if the country were conquered by an invader. It is only necessary to study the statistics relating to home-owners to understand that a large percentage of our people come within the category of those who have something to defend.

The Government should, as urged by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), indicate for how long it intends to carry on its drive for militia recruits, and when it will make up its mind whether or not the drive has been successful. It should also indicate what alternative it proposes if the campaign fails. Most thoughtful people recognize that, under the voluntary system of recruiting, it will be very difficult, if not impossible to keep up the strength of the militia forces over a period of years. We shall not always have the Minister for External affairs (Mr. Hughes) delivering inspiring recruiting speeches, and, when the excitement dies down, recruits will once more be difficult to obtain. Moreover, it is particularly important from the point of view of training staff officers at our military academies, such as Duntroon, that there should be adequate bodies of troops for them to command. Only in this way can they gain sufficient experience in the officering of a corps. It is necessary that we should have men as well as money if we are properly to defend the country.

The Treasurer should consider how far we can continue to maintain or to increase our social services, side by side with this increased defence expenditure. He should consider whether the national health and pensions insurance scheme, for instance, should be gone on with at a time when we are called upon to find an extra £20,000,000 within the next three years, over and above what was contemplated when the insurance bill was passed. The Government should take advantage of the experience gained during the crisis in September last in order to rectify whatever weaknesses may have been revealed in our defence system. It should consider the holding of a test mobilization of all the defence organizations, in Australia within the next six months or so, as. is done in other countries, in order to test the efficiency of our arrangements!







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