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Wednesday, 7 December 1938


Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- In considering a programme such as ths Government now proposes, which involves the expenditure in a three-year period of about £63,000,000, it is necessary for the Labour party to ask how far down the road will it go. It has been stated by members of the Government, and repeated by members of the Opposition, that we are compelled to see to the adequate defence of this country, but we must ask ourselves just what constitutes adequate defence. We must ask ourselves whether we are justified in blindly supporting every proposal for expenditure just because the Government says that it is necessary in the interests of defence.

Up until to-day, no honorable gentleman opposite has been prepared to mention the name of the potential enemy against which we are asked to prepare to defend ourselves. To-day, however, the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn), who claims close contact with military experts and appears to be in possession of special information, made no secret of the fact that the power which it was anticipated by the Government would attack Australia was none other than Japan. Yet when the waterside workers, evidently imbued with a desire to defend this country as far as they are able against the potential aggressor nation, refuse to load certain materials, which could and probably would be used in the manufacture of war equipment by that nation, this Government is so unduly influenced by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, a company that will rake many millions of pounds out of the expenditure of this money on what is called defence equipment, that instead of saying, as one would expect it to say, if it has in its possession information which points to Japan as the aggressor nation, that the men are to be commended for their action, it condemns them, and prepares to take drastic action against them. Because the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited wants profits from the sale of pig iron to Japan, this Government, believing in the perpetuation of the system of profits, is prepared to use its instrumentalities to compel the waterside workers to do something against the dictates of their consciences.


Mr SPEAKER - Tha t matter does not appear to have any relation to either the bill or the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition.


Mr WARD - The Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) announced that £1 0,000,000 of loan moneys would be raised as part of the £63,000,000 defence programme. Despite the protestations of the Minister a considerable part of that money will go to the private manufacturers of armaments in this country in the form of profits. If I can show that the Government is not sincere in its declarations that it will protect the public against exploitation, I think that I am justified in stating why members of this Parliament should not blindly vote for the expenditure of moneys simply on the say of the Government that it is necessary in the interests of defence.

The Prime Minister and the then Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby) said on a previous occasion that the Government was evolving a plan for the limitation of profits to those companies which would be required to supply war equipment.

Where is the plan? We have not seen it. All that we have had in this respect are the speeches of honorable gentlemen opposite, and we know that they are not worth anything, because, whereas many honorable members have frequently spoken in condemnation of government policy, they have always voted for it. The position that Labour must face is that it will be the poorer sections of the community who will be called upon to bear the cost of this enormous war expenditure. I call it " war expenditure " justifiably. There must be some point at which a halt must be called. The same thing applies to Great Britain and to all nations that prepare for war. When nations have reached the point at which they are in a position to wage war, do they allow their war material to go to waste - it deteriorates very quickly - or do they say, " We shall now make war against our enemies"? No honorable gentleman could claim that the sparse population that we have in this country could continue to maintain the war machine which it is proposed to create. A natural corollary of the policy of the Government must be a recurrence of what happened in the past when we were in financial difficulties. Honorable gentlemen opposite then talked about equality of sacrifice, but it was only talk; because we had Arbitration Court judges who, although they compelled the workers to make sacrifices, refused to do so themselves. When this country reaches the position when the bill for this huge defence programme has to be met, the Government will bring down another plan for economies. [Quorum formed.] It will ask, not the profiteers or those who are fortunately situated in the community, but the poorer classes, to bear the burden of sacrifice. As evidence of that we have the bread tax. When some people engaged in the wheat industry had to be granted assistance because they were in difficulties, the Government, because the Treasury was depleted of revenues as the result of the huge outlay on war equipment, imposed a tax on the people's bread.


Mr SPEAKER - Order ! I remind the honorable member that the matter to which he refers has been agreed to by this Parliament and has no relation to the matter now before the Chair.


Mr WARD - I am endeavouring to point out that this Government brought clown legislation for a bread tax because the Treasury had been depleted of revenue.


Mr SPEAKER - The honorable gentleman is not entitled to criticize a decision by Parliament.


Mr WARD - I am talking about the effects of what Parliament did.


Mr SPEAKER - The honorable gentleman may not do so.


Mr Brennan - That is new.


Mr SPEAKER - It is not new. It has always been the rule of debate in this House.


Mr WARD - The action the Government took in respect of the wheat industry is an indication of what it will expect from the workers when the bill for all of this defence preparation ls presented. All of the talk by Government supporters, that they are seeking the co-operation and goodwill of the workers, goes for nothing. The Prime Minister spoke of the living conditions in this country as being something of which we should be proud. That depends on the grade of society in which one lives. In many centres there are thousands of people who could not be said to be proud of the conditions of life that they have to endure. This Government has clone nothing to assist them. On every occasion on which proposals have been made that something be- done for the benefit of the unemployed' workers, honorable members opposite have expressed their sympathy, but said that there were no funds procurable to carry out the necessary works that would provide them with employment. Nevertheless, when those interests which exploit the workers for profit say that the country needs defending, unlimited money is immediately forthcoming to buy defence equipment.

The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) some time ago said that money had been made available and would be made available in the future in any quantity required for defence purposes. This being so, the Labour party would like to know what has become of all the arguments advanced by Government supporters against Labour's demand for the provision of money to raise living standards in this country. Evidently there will' be no difficulty in raising money for defence, but strong objection to providing it for the improvement of living conditions of the people. If the Government expects to have the co-operation of the Labour party in its present defence programme, it should tell us what we are to say to unemployed members of the community, and also to the large number of unfortunate disabled returned soldiers who have been left without pensions or other provision whatever in return for their services to this country in the Great War. The people of Australia should demand that certain things must be done before the Labour party can be expected to even consider co-operating with the Government in its defence scheme.

Although Government supporters claim that militarism in Australia is different from militarism in Germany or Japan, we know, from bitter experience, to what uses the military forces can be put. Not always are they employed in the defence of a country against invasion by a hostile force. In Great Britain, some years ago, when the workers were fighting for better living conditions, a special act of Parliament was passed to authorize the employment of the military forces to perform the services which had previously been carried out by the striking workers. In other parts of the world also, where militarism has grown in strength, the liberties of the people have practically disappeared. And what is the position in this country? There has been much talk of the wonderful conditions and the high living standards of Australian workers. The truth is that many of those who took part in the last war are actually forced to secure a licence in order to have the right to work and earn a livelihood for themselves and those dependent upon them. There is upon our statute-book legislation which provides long terms of imprisonment and other severe penalties for men who, having the courage of their convictions, are prepared to criticize those in authority in this country.

In my opinion, this Government has a long-range plan, only part of which has been announced to Parliament. Many of its most important features, have been kept secret. I believe that the Government is preparing against all sorts of eventualities. In furtherance of its plan it "will demand greater sacrifices from the people of this country in the near future, and if the workers, in desperation, are driven to revolt and if bread riots occur, the military forces, which in this measure we are asked to strengthen, will be used against the Australian people, and not against aggressors from overseas.

Apparently the Government fears that if our military forces were controlled by Australian officers they might not be willing to do what the Government would expect of them in certain circumstances. Therefore it is placing the armed forces of this country under Imperial officers. The Australian army is to-day under the control of an ex-Imperial officer who, as Director-General, is in receipt of a salary twice that paid to the Australian officer whom he succeeded. There is afoot a movement to place the Royal Australian Air Force under the command of an Imperial officer. For many years the Royal Australian Navy has been under the control of a Navy Board which is completely influenced or dominated by Imperial - naval officers who have no sympathy with the ideals of the Australian people. These men have their own ideas with regard to the use to which the defence forces of this country may be put - ideas that are totally at variance from those held by the Australian officers whom they have displaced.

If this Government is sincerely anxious to build up Australia's defence forces, it should make it possible for Australian recruits to rise to the highest positions in all arms of the services. But the Government does not propose to do that. It knows, probably, that it could not trust Australian officers to assist in any measures which it might be proposed to take against the Australian people in the near future.

The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) let the cat out of the bag when he said that the Government had to ask itself whether Australia could carry out this enlarged defence programme and, at the same time, continue the present social services. The honorable gentleman pointed out that the national insurance scheme which was passed by this Parliament recently will cost the Commonwealth £20,000,000, and he asked if the nation could afford it. Because of recent developments in connexion with defence expenditure the honorable member argued that the Government should not proceed with its insurance legislation. If the Government continues to expand its defence programme, and if it is found that the nation cannot afford the expenditure for national insurance, Government supporters will no doubt also ask whether we can afford to pay old-age, invalid and war pensions. That is the position which, I believe, will have to be faced.

In order to enlist the support of the Labour party for its defence plan, the Government has claimed that it will provide employment. I point out, however, that I have just received a communication from postal workers' organizations stating that, after advancing the plea that all available finance is required for defence purposes, the Government has advised the postal authorities that certain works which were contemplated during the present financial .year cannot now be undertaken. This will mean the dismissal of a considerable number of employees from the postal services of this country. I should like to know what the Government t proposes to do and what additional sacrifices will be asked of the people of Australia in order that this so-called defence programme may be proceeded with.

The Labour party has a policy for the adequate defence of this country. I am pleased to state that it is not identical with the policy announced by this Government. The two are as wide apart as the Poles. If Labour were in control of the treasury bench, it would provide for adequate defence and at the same time would protect the people against not only enemies who might come from overseas, but also enemies from within. The Labour party would demonstrate not only that it was capable of providing for the adequate defence of Australia, but also that it was able to make the working and living conditions of the people worth defending. That is an important consideration in any defence scheme. This Government has not the confidence, and, therefore, it lacks the support, of the people in its present defence proposals. This is evidenced by the poor response to the Government's appeal for recruits for the Militia Forces. The latest available figures show that only 3,000 men have responded to the Government's appeal and that this number includes many aged returned soldiers who are seeking jobs as instructors. I ask Government members who are supporting the plan of the Government, many of whom have expressed themselves as being definitely against conscription or compulsory military training, what is to be their attitude if the present drive for recruits fails? The Minister for Defence (Mr: Street) has stated that 70,000 men are required to man the war equipment which will be provided by the defence programme. If the Government does not secure that number of militiamen, there will undoubtedly be a demand from supporters of the Government's defence programme for the introduction of compulsory military training. That will be a logical sequel if the present appeal for enlistment fails, as I believe it will, because the people have no confidence in the Government and are not satisfied that it has done everything possible to improve standards of living and working conditions. I say to members of the Labour party, and of the party supporting the Government-


Mr Lane - They are not listening to the honorable member.


Mr WARD - If the members of this Government will not listen, the people outside will, and they are better able to appreciate what I am saying than the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane). Many members of the Government parties apparently believe themselves to be important personages; in the opinion of a great many people outside, they count for very little. The people outside know that the only party to which they can look for protection and assistance is the Australian Labour party.

We, on this side are anxious that the people should not be carried away by war hysteria, or by rumours that an enemy is awaiting an opportunity to strike. I remember some members of older generations telling of similar scares raised in past years. On one occasion a fort was hurriedly constructed in Sydney Harbour to resist invasion by Russia which was then the bogy of the British Empire.

If this Government wishes the people to believe in its present defence programme, and in the sincerity of speeches made by its supporters, it must translate words into actions. Unless the Government is prepared to do that, it cannot hope to obtain the co-operation or support of the Labour party.

There is much talk at present of a" national physical fitness campaign, and of what the Government has done in this connexion, and proposes to do in future. Yet workers and their families are being evicted from their homes every day of the week. Wo protection is being given by the Government to these people. Organizations which care for unfortunate children are appealing to the Government for finance in order that they might provide an issue of milk to improve their health; but no assistance has been forthcoming. The Government also turned down an appeal by an organization in Melbourne for a grant of a few thousand pounds to enable it to continue charitable work of a similar character. The answer given by the Government was that no fund was available from which the necessary assistance could be provided. But money can be provided for other purposes. The people want something more than sympathetic speeches from the Government. They want action. This country needs more schools and hospitals, and improved roads, but national works of a reproductive character have been passed over, in favour of defence works. The Government cannot hope to get the co-operation of the people in its defence proposals, because the people have no confidence in it. The only party capable of carrying out an adequate defence programme, is the present Opposition. The best thing that the Government can do is to resign and make way for a party which is prepared to do the job properly and defend Australia, not in the interests of the exploiters of the workers, but in the interests of the nation. A Labour government would build up our standards of living to a level of which we could be proud; they would then be worth defending.

I assure honorable members opposite that, despite the outside influences which are urging them to embark upon this extravagant defence expenditure, the Labour party knows what it will entail for the workers. Despite legislation imposing heavy penalties on those who may criticize the Government, some members of the Labour party will be prepared to take that risk. No doubt the Government forces realize the necessity for preventing adequate public discussion of the defence proposals. I ask the Government to explain why it is now contemplating the introduction of legislation to prevent newspapers from criticizing its defence programme. "Why is it using its influence to have certain newscommentators removed from the broadcasting stations? If the Government has nothing to hide, why should it desire to prevent adequate discussion of its proposals? I hope that the Opposition will not blindly follow this Government along the track that it has marked out for itself,' but that it will make certain demands upon the Government. First, the Government should keep this Parliament in session until it has expunged all anti-Labour legislation from the statutebook. It should also take immediate steps to see that every able-bodied man who needs work is provided with it, and that those unable to work are supplied with sufficient income to permit of their living in decent conditions. Then the Opposition might consider that there was some sign of sincerity on the part of the Government. [Quorum formed.]







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