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Thursday, 20 April 1939

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I shall not in any way share the personal aspects of the controversy that has developed here this morning - has developed openly here this morning, but has, I venture to say, been one of the factors making orderly government in Australia almost impossible in the last two years. The coalition has survived since the last election, it will now be universally recognized, solely because of the personal influence of the late Prime Minister, and with his passing, all of the inevitable points of collision, some political, but it would appear the major ones personal, have come to the surface. The speech of the Prime Minister (Sir Earle Page) about the personal unfitness of the Leader of the United Australia party (Mr. Menzies) to become head of the Government would, if we believed the right honorable gentleman, disqualify the Leader of the United Australia party from any claim to national leadership. That is on the one hand. On the other hand, although the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) has spoken in the most restrained way, I have not the least doubt that if he took us into his confidence as fully as the Prime Minister has done, he would make it plain to us and the people that the leadership of the Country party is not in such hands as would justify the people of Australia in having any confidence in it. Thus it must be clear to Australia now that the Leader of the Country party has no confidence whatever in the United Australia party as a collateral branch of responsible government when it selects the right honorable member for Kooyong as its leader; and in the light of the interjections that punctuated the speech of the Prime Minister I have not the least doubt that members of the United Aust tralia party, who found it difficult to tolerate some of the practices of the present Prime Minister while Deputy Prime Minister, would, if they spoke the truth, make it clear that they do not regard his presence in the Government, let alone as leader, as a contribution to the welfare of this nation. Thus two responsible spokesmen, for they are the most responsible persons in the two parties that have formed the coalition and have been responsible for the government of this Commonwealth for some considerable time, have now convicted each other of offences which make the good government of Australia not only difficult, but, indeed, so long as they exhibit this attitude towards each other, impossible. My position is that we have no confidence whatever in either the United Australia party or the Country party, separately or corporately. We told the people that the Labour party was the only party whose principles were consistent and whose elements were homogeneous. The honorable gentlemen behind me, and" other recruits who will come to the ranks of my party, sit in this Parliament as members of a completely solid and consistent party. Last December, when the Government had the undoubted value of the astute leadership of the deceased Prime Minister, an election was held in a constituency which was a traditional stronghold of the Government. The appeal to the people was on high issues and the candidate against the Labour party was a man of great and unusual distinction who had held the highest office in his own State. Such a formidable representative of anti-Labour, who stood for the policy of the United Australia party and its association with the policy of the Country party in this Parliament, was defeated in the most remarkable transfer of votes that can be recalled in the history of this Commonwealth, and the vacancy which was caused by the death of the Honorable Charles Hawker is now filled, not by a supporter of the Government, but by an opponent of the Government. That is to say, the people of Australia, were they to have the opportunity to express themselves, would say about the Government as a whole in effect what the Prime Minister has said about the Leader of the United Australia party, and what the Leader of the United Australia party has said about the Leader of the Country party.

Opposition Members. - Hear, hear !

Mr CURTIN -- It would appear to me, Mr. Speaker, that the solution of this difficulty is that the people of Australia should be heard. One suggestion by the right honorable the Prime Minister was that he would be prepared to recommend that the three party leaders in this House should consult, with a view to the formation of a government. Presumably, the right honorable gentleman meant an allparty government. If there could be anything worse than a government consisting of two parties it would be a government consisting of three parties. Such a combination would not be a government, it would be a society of disputation and debate; decisions would never .be reached; determinations could not be arrived at, let alone carried out. I say to Australia, quite seriously, that however good a government may be, it will be all the better if it is composed of men who subscribe to the one set of political principles, who are united in their outlook upon the problems of the country, and who may as a team translate into reality ideas that they have as to the way in which the country should be administered. That government would bo a government of leadership and action. And any government, even if it has the best policies, would do far better service to the nation if there were arrayed against it in Parliament an Opposition courageous, intelligent, and patriotic. It is not a good thing for democracies to have governments that are unchecked by criticism or by honest opposition. We have to preserve the reality of democracy, and, therefore, all this talk about an allparty government is not really a contribution to the safety of the nation. It is designed merely to ensure the safety of the government against internal criticism, however necessary it may be in the interests of the nation that that criticism should be levelled. Let us not have the reality of totalitarianism while pretending to maintain democratic institutions. For myself and my party, 1 say that either in peace or war we are prepared to take the responsibility of governing this country on the basis of our own programme. We shall not attempt to govern this country on any other platform than that of Labour, and we shall make no presumptuous endeavour to become the Government until the people of Australia give us a majority in this House. So long as the people of Australia give to Labour in this Parliament a minority of members we shall accept the duty cast upon us, that of opposition. But, when the people of Australia, as I hope and think they will, cast on us the responsibility of government, then we shall accept the responsibility of governing on our own policy, a policy which the people will first have approved, and we shall not be involved in struggles for portfolios and leadership. The Prime Minister, as Leader of the Country party, says that what is required is a leader of courage, loyalty and judgment; he has, by implication, said that the United Australia party had a leader of that kind in the deceased Prime Minister; in effect, he says that the present choice of the United Australia party does not possess those attributes. Otherwise his speech was meaningless. The Country party accuses the United Australia party,, its political collaborator for years, of having reached the stage of complete bankruptcy in leadership. That is the charge implicit in everything said by the Leader of the Country party against the United Australia party. 1 repeat that the leaders of both parties have convicted each other of unfitness to be leaders of this coalition. Therefore, as the leaders of this coalition cannot agree, and because of the divergence of policy and principles which emerges from the discussion between these collaborators, it must be palpable that separately or together they are no longer fitted to be entrusted with the government of this Commonwealth.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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